The ongoing saga of Kanye West just got a few degrees more perplexing following his first official campaign event in South Carolina Sunday night.
If you were unaware, the famous rapper, clothing designer, and husband of entertainment socialite Kim Kardashian recently declared his independent candidacy for president. This extraordinary announcement came less than a year after West's other jaw-dropping profession of conversion to Christ.
But while his faith claims were largely met with cautious (if not curious) excitement, the presidential run is off to a rather inauspicious start. His opening act of political theater was proof enough of that, with West delivering an often uncomfortable and awkward speech to a socially distanced crowd of what would more accurately be labeled gawkers than supporters.
It was this one line, however, that rightly sent them streaming to the exits:
"Harriet Tubman never actually freed the slaves, she just had them work for other white people."
It's tough to know what provoked that claim, or why West believed that attacking the legacy and heroism of one of the greatest Americans to ever live would go over well. And to be clear, I'm not exaggerating when I assign Tubman that status.
I've long believed that the name of Harriet Tubman deserves a far more prominent place in our national pantheon of distinguished patriots. Her contributions to the greatness of America, to our relentless pursuit of a "more perfect union," to the ideals of liberty, courage, and self-sacrifice, are colossal, among the upper echelon of heroes in our 244-year history.
Set aside key Founding Fathers without whom there would be no United States of America, and Tubman's name belongs among the greats.
Bearing the lifelong scars of lashings she received at the end of her owner's whip, Tubman escaped from slavery in Maryland to the freedom of Pennsylvania in 1849, despite the fact that her free husband John refused to join her. Presented with the opportunity to begin an emancipated life, Tubman heroically sacrificed her own freedom to make 19 separate trips into the south to liberate other slaves.
Because of the imprecise record keeping of the secretive Underground Railroad, estimates as to how many human souls Tubman rescued varies, with her biographer claiming around 300. Tubman herself was far more humble, reporting a number one-third that size. Whatever the amount, her gallantry – particularly notable in that time period due to the fact that she was a woman – earned her the nickname "Moses" throughout the antebellum south.
Not to be overlooked, she maintained a flawless record of deliverance, once quipping to famed abolitionist (and escaped slave himself) Frederick Douglass, "I never lost a passenger," even when the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 deputized northern officials in the work of recovering and returning escaped slaves. Undeterred, Tubman courageously extended her "railroad" tracks all the way into Canada.
When the Civil War broke out, Tubman refused to stand on the sidelines, first volunteering to serve the Union army as a cook and a nurse, then quickly advancing to the role of armed scout and spy.
In the summer of 1863, just a month before the tide-turning battle at Gettysburg, Harriet Tubman became the first woman to co-lead a military raid in the conflict. Piercing into the heart of the Confederacy, the Combahee River Raid led to the recovery of thousands of dollars' worth of property and the liberation of over 700 slaves from South Carolina, without the loss of a single Union soldier's life. In subsequent months and years, despite multiple requests for compensation, Tubman was never properly paid for her service. Yet she still kept serving.
Well into old age, Tubman worked for the women's suffrage movement, engaged in philanthropy, and opened a home for elderly and needy blacks.
How this woman does not have an imposing statue adorning the U.S. capitol in her honor is a travesty in my book.
So listen, there are plenty of high-profile Americans who are given far too much credit than what they are due …Thomas Paine, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Edison, Franklin Roosevelt, Beyonce, take your pick.
But Harriet Tubman? Try again.