Harriet Tubman Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about slavery, the Underground Railroad, and Harriet Tubman. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Harriet Tubman. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross around 1850 in Dorchester County, Maryland. She changed her name to Harriet, after her mother, and then later married a freed slave named John Tubman. From a young age, Harriet Tubman was fiercely independent and courageous and stood up for her fellow slaves. When she was twelve years old, she refused to tie up a slave and an angry overseer threw an iron weight. The weight struck her on the head and for the rest of her life, Tubman was prone to narcolepsy.

When Tubman was thirty years old, a white neighbor gave her the names of two people who could help her escape to the North. She left behind her husband and traveled secretly to Philadelphia, where she learned about the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad.

The following year, Tubman returned to the South to free members of her family and help them escape to Ontario, Canada. She continued to escort other slaves and became an active member of the Underground Railroad. She helped about 300 slaves escape to safety and never lost a single one of her charges. She even threatened to shoot her charges who wanted to turn back.

It is important for your children to understand that the Underground Railroad was not actually a railroad. Instead, it was a group of abolitionists, or people who worked to end slavery, who secretly escorted and transported escaped slaves to the North. Conductors, like Harriet Tubman, made the dangerous journey with the slaves. Stationmasters were people who took in escaped slaves into their homes and businesses. Safehouses were the homes and business that were safe for slaves. They usually had lit candles or lanterns in the window to show that they were safe.

The Civil War broke out in 1861 and Harriet Tubman worked as a nurse, cook, and a spy/scout for the Union. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation and promised freedom to all slaves in the South. We recommend watching the Abraham Lincoln movie together as a review. It was not until Congress ratified the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 that slavery was abolished. It is important for your children to understand that even though slavery was illegal, African Americans still faced racism, discrimination, and inequalities. People still fight these injustices today and you should encourage your children to find “modern-day Harriet Tubmans” and draw parallels.

Harriet Tubman fought for equal rights for African Americans and women until her death in 1913.