The recent outrage over the OneUnited Bank limited-edition Harriet Tubman Card is an important opportunity for a conversation. Yes, art at its best evokes passionate emotions, which we respect. However, in celebration of Harriet Tubman Day, March 10, we would like to expand the conversation to focus on Harriet Tubman’s economic empowerment legacy.
There’s a trope about how the Black community should relate to capitalism and a capitalistic society. While America has benefited from the free labor of Black folks for years and thwarted our ability to build wealth, there is an expectation that we must remain solely pious or at least anti-capitalist.
The conflation of enslavement and capitalism has been used for centuries to keep African Americans from focusing on economic empowerment. Yes, Tubman was an abolitionist, but her work, like all movements, required money. She also understood the necessity of economic empowerment for security.
In 1858, Harriet Tubman bought her home in Auburn, New York, for $1,200 to provide a safe place for her family. The Harriet Tubman Home still exists today. She also bought 25 acres around her property in 1896 at auction for $1,450. She understood the necessity of economic empowerment for security, while fighting against the dehumanizing version of capitalism practiced in America. The economic empowerment legacy of Harriet Tubman has yet to be told.