WCW: Harriet Tubman


She didn’t invent the Underground Railroad, but Harriet Tubman was one its most famous and successful ‘conductors.’ Having escaped from slavery herself, she turned right around and went back to help her family, friends, and more gain freedom. In some 13 different trips, Tubman rescued at least 70 people before the Civil War, saying: “I was conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”

Between 1868 - 1869, Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman between 1868 & 1869

1885, Harriet Tubman by Squyer

Harriet Tubman in 1885, by Squyer

Only one TV movie has shown Harriet Tubman’s life story, and she’s appeared in a just a few historical TV shows about the Underground Railroad or Civil War. Later this year, she’ll finally get the full theatrical biopic treatment. So let’s celebrate this inspirational woman in her frock flick appearances so far!



Cicely Tyson in A Woman Called Moses (1978)

A Woman Called Moses (1978)

Tyson delivers a world-class performance as Harriet Tubman during the period of slavery and when she escapes, with a brief mention of her continued activism when the Civil War ended. This two-part TV movie came out a year after the original Roots miniseries first brought a glimpse of chattel slavery to American living rooms.

A Woman Called Moses (1978)



Octavia Spencer in Drunk History, “Spies” (2015)

Drunk History (2013)

Kind of a pity that nearly 40 years passed between on-screen appearances (if there are ones I missed, let me know and share pix!). But at least Drunk History had a fine actor showing Tubman’s role during the Civil War as a nurse, scout, and spy.

Drunk History (2013)



Bebe Drake in Another Period, “Lillian Is Dead” (2016)

Another Period (2013)

Yeah, sure, Harriet Tubman would have been alive in the vague 1900s of the Bellacourts and she lived in Auburn, New York, generally in their area. So y’know, kinda working with the actual history there…



Aisha Hinds in Underground (2017)

Underground (2017)

The second season of this sadly short-lived series very appropriately brought Harriet Tubman into the story that was all about the Underground Railroad. She was an excellent addition into the fictional story, giving it a sense of necessary gravitas.

Underground (2017)



Christine Horn in Timeless, “The General” (2018)

Timeless (2018)

Kendra admits it’s not her era, but she liked seeing Harriet Tubman being a badass during the Civil War and leading a key slave rebellion (things that actually happened).

Timeless - Season 2



Cynthia Erivo in Harriet (2019)

Harriet (2019)

Per IMDB, this feature film is: “Based on the story of iconic freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, her escape from slavery and subsequent missions to free dozens of slaves through the Underground Railroad in the face of growing pre-Civil War adversity.” Costumes will be designed by Paul Tazewell, Tony Award-winner for Hamilton, so there should be plenty to look forward to.

Harriet (2019)



What do you know about Harriet Tubman? Will you see the new movie?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

13 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    Not enough, but I’m going to see the new film. Cicely Tyson is the mark the actress will need to live up to.

  2. Sam Marchiony

    I will definitely be seeing the new movie — I remember seeing this amazing Harriet Tubman play where she fooled a slave hunter into thinking she was able to read because she’d basically memorized the Bible. It was GREAT.

  3. Saraquill

    How many of her on screen appearances acknowledge her brain damage? I’m pro-intersectionality and will be annoyed if Tubman’s gets downplayed

    • Roxana

      I didn’t know about any brain damage. It makes her accomplishment even more impressive.

      • Saraquill

        When she was young, she got hit in the head with a metal weight while helping another enslaved person escape. She served as a conductor and military spy knowing she was prone to losing consciousness without warning.

        • Roxana

          Must have inconvenienced her no end. But it doesn’t seem to have effected her competence.

          • CatnipTARDIS

            It makes the fact she was never caught even more amazing. There were times she would have a “sleeping spell” in the middle of leading slaves; they would wait with her wherever they happened to be (even in the middle of the woods) until we regained consciousness.

  4. Jewel

    If you want to know the story of Harriet Tubman, please read the paper back books written by Sara Bradford.

    She is the only person that Harriet Tubman had a one on one conversation with about her Life. Check it out for yourself.

    Sara Bradford was a part of the Underground Movement.

  5. Sharon in Scotland

    Was she portrayed in “Sleepy Hollow”? I think she was, but that might be wishful thinking

    • ladylavinia1932

      “Sleepy Hollow” was set during the end of the 18th century. Harriet Tubman was born in 1820. And she became a conductor on the Underground Railroad by 1850 or 1851.

      • Trystan L. Bass

        It’s a fair question – the TV show ‘Sleepy Hollow’ jumped around in time & had Abraham & Mary Todd Lincoln in 2 of the later episodes, so that’s contemporary to Harriet Tubman. But I didn’t keep up w/the show & can’t be sure if Tubman was in it.

  6. M.E. Lawrence

    Spencer as Harriet Tubman?! Sometimes I wish I subscribed to Netflix or something.