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False quote on freed slaves wrongly attributed to Harriet Tubman

October 4, 2018 GMT

CLAIM: Harriet Tubman said: “I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Harriet Tubman, 19th century abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor, did not say that she freed a thousand slaves and would have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.

THE FACTS: An image of Tubman is circulating online with the quote about freeing slaves. Kate Clifford Larson, a historian and Harriet Tubman scholar, told The Associated Press that Tubman never said used that phrase. 

Larson, author of “Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero,”  also said the phrasing is inconsistent with Tubman’s usual wording and does not sound like someone “with knowledge of the condition of enslavement.”  

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Fergus Bordewich, a historian and author of “Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America,” agreed. “This is not authentic. Tubman freed fewer than one hundred slaves, and was not a boastful person. It’s not Tubman’s kind of language at all,” he said.

While the National Park Service kept an original historic road marker in Bucktown, Maryland, that credits her with freeing 300 slaves, “historians now agree that the number is between 70 and 90,” said Kem Knapp Sawyer, author of “The Underground Railroad in American History” and a contributing editor at the Pulitzer Center.

Sawyer also noted that Tubman did not read or write, “so it’s hard to pin down direct quotes.”

Kanye West also quoted the false statement in a now deleted May 2018 tweet.