An Open Letter From Harriet Tubman Asking You to Keep Her Name Out Your Mouth

L-R, Kanye West, Harriet Tubman, Lauryn Hill, Nicki Minaj
L-R, Kanye West, Harriet Tubman, Lauryn Hill, Nicki Minaj
Image: Getty Images, Wikimedia Commons

Hey y’all,

I was just chilling in the great cookout in the sky playing spades with Sojourner about to run a dime on Frederick Douglass and Richard Pryor when my Google Alert went off. (We have pretty good wi-fi up here.) Once again I heard someone down there mention my name, comparing themselves to me.


Usually, when this happens, I pay it no attention. In fact, I was a little flattered when I heard that you guys were considering me for the face of the 20 dollar bill, despite the fact that no one contacted my marketing team about using my likeness. (By the way, whatever happened with that? I was going to schedule a photo shoot and everything.)

Lil Marty (that’s what we call Martin Luther King, Jr. up here) warned me a long time ago that—if I’m not careful—they would whitewash me like they did him. But as it turns out, it wasn’t white people who were sullying my legacy, it was my own skinfolk!

Anyway, since I seem to be a recurring topic of conversation, I’d like to clear a few things up.

Earlier today, Kanye West explained his “slavery was choice” comments on Chicago radio station WGCI by saying: “When I hear anything about an entire powerful group of people being held captive for 400 years, it sounds like a choice to the spirit of Kanye West, which I think is aligned with the spirit of Harriet Tubman.”

I had my tech guy (Some white dude named Steve Jobs. He seems to know what he’s doing.) put together a few clips.

Look bruh, I have been an actual spirit since March 10, 1913, and I don’t even know your spirit like that, much less align with it!


I know you said that you don’t get your information from books, you get it from your gut. Well, you need to tell your gut that when I was lying face down in the mud, hiding from fugitive slave hunters’ bloodhounds, the only choice my passengers on the Underground Railroad made was between liberty and death, or as I once said:

I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.”


Insinuating that anyone would choose the opposite of freedom is like saying that one chooses whether or not they should breathe. God gave us the right to freedom and no man chooses slavery. I know this is true because I have met slaves and I also know God personally.

I braid her hair every Thursday!

Just yesterday, Lauryn Hill invoked my name to cite her “seriousness and militancy in the face of tremendous resistance.” Now, I’ll be honest: I loved The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I had it on repeat for years when it came out on our streaming service, Godify.


However, there is a difference between going into the belly of the beast to free oppressed people and sitting in an air-conditioned studio and making an album. If I could have grabbed a guitar and freed my people, I would have done it. Even though I have been told that I possess a pretty good singing voice, my work required a pistol. I made 13 trips to free enslaved humans, so I’d say our “tours” were pretty different.

Plus, I never showed up late for my jobs. I didn’t have the luxury of waiting for my energy to align with the chakras.


Many of you are waiting for me to clap back at Nicki Minaj’s tweets, but I’m not on social media, so I’m not quite sure who she is. It’s not that I don’t like Twitter and Instagram, I just spent most of my life trying to make sure I didn’t have any “followers.”


The only Nikki I acknowledge is Giovanni.

There are others who have used my name in vain, like Omarosa Manigault Newman. I’ll probably never get the chance to meet her (reliable sources tell me that she’s on the “banned” list at the Pearly Gates), so I’d like to tell her: Whether it’s an asinine Black History Month essay on school choice or selling your tell-all book about how you conspired with the enemy, please don’t use my name to further the cause of white supremacy.


I would have never taken a room in the Massa’s house and contributed to the oppression of my own people. That’s your thing.

While I could go on for days, there are a few other misconceptions I’d like to clear up.

  • I didn’t even free 100 slaves: I never said: “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” I told people that I freed about 50 or 60 slaves in 13 trips. Someone inflated the number to 300 in 19 trips, but I have no idea where the 1,000 slaves number comes from. But 60 is still more than the number of people who attended Donald Trump’s inauguration.
  • I didn’t lead slaves from the South to the North: I never went into the deep south to free slaves. The slaves I freed were all in Maryland. In fact, most of the Underground Railroad was in the North. Because of the Fugitive Slave Act, I couldn’t just escort slaves to a free state and they were free.
  • My name isn’t Harriet Tubman: I was born Araminta Ross but everyone called me “Minty.” If you call me by my slave name, now, I might fight you. I take boxing lessons with Muhammad Ali every Thursday (unless God wants a really intricate design in her braids).
  • I was one of the most instrumental figures to help end slavery: No one ever mentions my work with the Army but I am also considered to be the greatest spy in American history. Without question, I am the greatest female spy the United States has ever known. I also served as an adviser to several Union generals and my information helped capture Jacksonville, Fla. I recruited and trained soldiers and a network of black spies in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, which was instrumental in winning the Civil War.
  • But I did help free 1,000 slaves: On June 1, 1863, I led 300 black soldiers on a raid that freed 756 slaves. During the Civil War, I gave intelligence for raids that freed hundreds of more slaves. So the 1,000 slaves thing is kinda true.

From now on, if you decide to use my name, make sure you use it right. I know I can’t stop you from keeping my name in your mouth, but recognize that I am not just some long-gone metaphor for you to throw around whenever you want to make people respect you. I was an actual human being.

Anyway, if you must invoke my name or likeness, please send notice to my attorney Johnny Cochran. And feel free to use this accurate quote:

“I freed 60 slaves. I could have freed 60 more if my chakras were aligned and Kanye told them it was a choice.”


I gotta go.

Frederick Douglass just reneged.

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.


Maiysha Kai

Never change, Michael. Never change.