Harriet Tubman and Underground Railroad Books from Black Publishers and Authors

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Harriet Tubman (Photo in the public domain, {{PD-US-expired}}

In this post, we present alternatives to seeing the movie “Harriet” scheduled for release on November 1, 2019.  This movie is steeped in controversy on several fronts.  First, the lead, Cynthia Erivo is not an American Descendant of Slaves (ADOS), but rather British and Nigerian.  Further, she has mocked the speech patterns of ADOS as “ghetto American,” and she is a close associate and supporter of Luvvie Ajayi, whose lengthy list of derogatory tweets towards ADOS in general, and some in particular have caused backlash. 

Second, Focus Features, the distribution company for this movie is accused of failing to live up to a partnership agreement with GirlTrek, a non profit organization whose mission is to promote walking and healing among black women.  The organization perceived their mission was in sync with that of Focus Features given Harriet Tubman’s treks through the Underground Railroad inspires what they do.  However, the co-founders of GirlTrek contend that Focus Features backpedaled on an understanding to use their platform and the movie to promote the organization’s mission.  This despite the extensive work that GirlTrek had already done in promoting the movie to their followers and more.

Third, Comcast, the parent company of Focus Features is embroiled in a legal battle with Byron Allen over their alleged discrimination in refusing to broadcast his television channels on their cable network.  In this legal battle, Comcast is seeking to reinterpret the Civil Rights Act of 1866 such that it would have to be shown that race was the determining opposed to a motivating factor behind unequal treatment.  As a result of this, a New Jersey branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) canceled a screening of Harriet. 

Following the release, a fourth controversy has arisen regarding the content of the movie.  According to reviews, a black man (i.e., Bigger Long) is portrayed as a villain, as that of a slave catcher.  This slave catcher kills the character played by Janelle Monáe, and is ultimately shot dead by Harriet’s slave master to save Harriet’s life, making him the hero of the hour.  Yet, black slave catchers, though they are said to have existed were an anomaly.  According to Wikipedia, there were no cases reported of free blacks operating as slave catchers.  Yet in this movie, a decision was made to portray a black man named Bigger Long as a slave catcher.  Furthermore, the reviews suggest that some scenes seemed made up to portray his atrocities.  To add insult to injury, the feelings of ‘love’ that Harriet’s slave master supposedly had for her are explored; whereas the slave master struggled in ‘suppressing his love’ for Harriet.  Love?  What sheer gall. 

For these reasons among others, many have indicated on social media and elsewhere they will boycott this movie.  Yet if the surrounding hype has kindled a desire to reacquaint yourself with and further your appreciation of the life of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, there are several options from black publishers and authors.  See the companies and product links below for details. 

Some of the following are affiliate links.  As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  This means at no cost to you, Shop With Leslie will receive a commission should you use the link in making a purchase.

Ann Petry offers a selection of books for children (advertisement).

Glennette Tilley Turner writes about the Underground Railroad in Illinois, and has a children’s book that is also sold with a corresponding DVD. (advertisement)

Andrea Davis Pinkney’s children’s book about women freedom fighters includes a section about Harriet Tubman. (advertisement)

Cheryl Janifer LaRoche writes about the help that free Black communities provided to individuals fleeing from slavery. (advertisement)

Carole Boston Weatherford offers a children’s book. (advertisement)

There are also videos available on Amazon (advertisement).

PUBLISHERS & ONLINE BOOK STORES

In reviewing these options, I hope you find books or videos about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad that you want to read and view.

Happy Shopping!

References

  1. GirlTrek Open Letter.  https://mailchi.mp/girltrek/openletter?e=9fd19736a3
  2. Gleiberman, Owen.  “Film Review:  Harriet.”  10, September 2019.  https://variety.com/2019/film/reviews/harriet-review-cynthia-erivo-1203330489/
  3. Gueye Awa. “Is Cynthia Erivo the wrong person to play Harriet Tubman?” 30, July 2019.  https://afropunk.com/2019/07/is-cynthia-erivo-the-wrong-person-to-play-harriet-tubman/
  4. Hampton, Rachelle.  “What’s fact and what’s fiction in Harriet?”  31, October 2019.  https://slate.com/culture/2019/10/harriet-movie-historical-accuracy-fact-fiction.html
  5. Newsone.  “Black women’s group slams studio behind ‘Harriet’ movie for trying to exploit black genius.”  24, October 2019. https://newsone.com/3891225/black-womens-group-slams-studio-behind-harriet-movie/
  6. Newsone.  “Debate rages over ‘Harriet’: Is it too sympathetic to white folks?”  1 November, 2019.  https://newsone.com/3892189/harriet-movie-reviews/
  7. Luvvie Ajayi and derogatory tweets about ADOS. 
  8. Obie, Brooke C. “How Do You Solve A Problem Like ‘Harriet’? [REVIEW]” 25, October 2019.  https://shadowandact.com/harriet-movie-review
  9. Sims, Megan.  “New jersey NAACP cancels screening of ‘Harriet’ to take a stand in the Comcast battle.” 27, October 2019.  https://thegrio.com/2019/10/27/new-jersey-naacp-chapter-cancels-screening-of-harriet-to-take-stand-in-comcast-battle/
  10. The Grio “Byron Allen reveals story behind Comcast lawsuit and Black wealth success tips.” 27, October 2019.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6VBYU3Jvl4&t=102s
  11. The Grio. “Watch:  Antonio Moore on uncomfortable truths about Harriet film and Comcast.”  29, October 2019.  https://thegrio.com/2019/10/29/opinion-antonio-moore-on-comcast-lawsuit-and-their-subsidiaries-company-releasing-harriet-film/
  12. Thread By @eBoPeep.  “Here’s why Cynthia Erivo in particular, should not play Harriet Tubman.” 24, September 2018. https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1044181901706178560.html
  13. Wells, Veronica.  “Black Americans have every right to question whether Erivo should play Harriet Tubman.”  18 September, 2018. https://madamenoire.com/1040755/cynthia-erivo-harriet-tubman-controversy/
  14. Wikipedia.  “Slave Catcher.”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_catcher

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