A Conversation with Artist Nettrice Gaskins, ‘Beacon of Hope’ Creator

Nettrice Gaskins is a digital artist and self-identified Afrofuturist whose work has been receiving national attention. A 2021 Ford global fellow, Gaskins’s work is featured in the current “FUTURES” exhibit at the Smithsonian.

Ms.’s Janell Hobson, who invited Gaskins to create original art for the Harriet Tubman Bicentennial Project, interviewed the artist over Zoom.  

The Sound World of Harriet Tubman

In spring 2019, I went on a trip to the birthplace of Harriet Tubman. The experience of learning Tubman’s story set me on the trajectory to be able to explore the songs she sang, and the sound world in which she lived, so that we can better understand her life.

This essay is a sound collage and discussion of the early African American music culture that molded one of our most prolific ancestors. 

A Conversation with Music Composer Nkeiru Okoye of ‘Harriet Tubman’ Opera Fame

Dr. Nkeiru Okoye, whose first name means “the future is great,” has already dazzled the world as an internationally recognized music composer of opera, symphonic, choral, chamber, solo piano and vocal works. A 2021 Guggenheim fellow, Okoye is best known for her opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed that Line to Freedom, which premiered with The American Opera Project in 2014.

‘Harriet’ and the Combahee River Raid

Most Americans know of Harriet Tubman’s work on the Underground Railroad. But there are still many things about Harriet Tubman’s extraordinary Civil War service that Americans do not know—including being the first woman in U.S. history to lead men into battle, in what became known as the Combahee River Raid.

In 1974, Tubman’s incredible victories and sacrifices to free the most oppressed inspired a group of Black feminists to build coalitions and engage globally in political activism to free Black women from capitalism, racism and patriarchy: the Combahee River Collective.

Harriet Tubman’s Disability and Why it Matters

Most 19th-century writers focused on Tubman’s bravery and strength. Her supporters praised her for her successful solo journeys into the slave-holding South to free dozens of enslaved people.

Yet, as an enslaved woman who lived in a patriarchal and anti-Black America, Harriet Tubman’s freedom dream and fugitive activism demonstrated something else: She offered up a version of freedom where a disabled Black woman sat at the center of it, where Black women were liberators, and where liberation was communal and democratic.  

Family Portraits of a Legend: Conversations with the Descendants of Harriet Tubman

Tubman was the fifth of nine children born enslaved to Harriet “Rit” Green and Benjamin “Ben” Ross in Dorchester County, Md. She rescued her parents and some of her siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews from the clutches of chattel slavery. Their descendants thus have a special connection to “Aunt Harriet.”   

“We are witnessing slavery in many forms throughout the world. My advice: Don’t own anybody and don’t let anybody own you. Seek your own freedom, set yourself free, and when you do, take somebody else with you.” 

Harriet Tubman: A Life Beyond Myths

Since the first biographical details about Harriet Tubman were published in Boston’s Commonwealth newspaper in July 1863, her life story has been rewritten, distorted and reimagined time and time again.

Instead of repeating inaccurate depictions of Tubman’s achievements, let’s reclaim her story, the one rooted in her own words and well documented deeds. Let’s demand deeply researched, purposeful and respectful interpretation, not “gilded haze,” to reveal the true story of this remarkable woman. If we do not challenge the myths, we lose opportunities to fully comprehend our nation’s past and the complicated histories that shape today’s cultural, racial and political discussions.  

Harriet Tubman, Astronomer Extraordinaire

Polaris, the North Star, is so named because it always points toward true north. Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman used the North Star to liberate herself—then went South over and over again, using it to liberate both family and strangers. 

I cannot imagine a more noble use of astronomical knowledge than to liberate people from the violent horror of chattel slavery. There is a great cosmos beyond the horrors of slavery and its wake. We have always been a part of it, and it has always been a part of us.

Let Me Not Forget: Harriet Tubman’s Enduring Speculative Visions

The slave trade and the ensuing centuries of plantation slavery across the Atlantic world were marked by dehumanization, avarice and barbarity. During slavery, such creative employments of the imagination turned the intended financial returns in slavery speculation on their head with African diasporans taking back control over their bodies through covert and overt forms of resistance and flight.

Harriet Tubman’s continued embrace of liberatory visions for the future reminds us of the necessity of intentional organizing, insisting on re-narrativizing master accounts to get at the truth, and proceeding speculatively to truly live: Let [us] not forget/be free or die.