The inspirational Harriet Tubman quote printed in Golden Bear Boulevard is historically inaccurate.
BY JAMES UNDERWOOD, ’23. PHOTO BY BELLA VANMETER, ’22.
Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.Harriet Tubman
This quote, printed in black letters toward the south end of Golden Bear Boulevard, has obvious feel-good appeal. But there’s one problem: Tubman never said it.
That’s according to Kate Clifford Larson, a Tubman scholar and biographer with a doctorate in history. “There is no original quote for this,” Larson has written on her website.
So where did this false quote come from, and how did it end up painted on a wall in UAHS?
Larson traces its origin to 2007, saying that it took off in 2010. Since then, the quote has made an appearance in other places, too. For example, when the Treasury Department announced in 2016 that Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, then-mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio tweeted the false quote before retracting it half an hour later.
As for the quote’s journey to Golden Bear Boulevard, UA Schools Chief Operating Officer Chris Potts said that, as the new building was being planned, the district considered branding in accordance with its motto, “Serve, Lead, Succeed.” As part of that effort, the district considered various quotes to be printed in Golden Bear Boulevard.
Options were provided by Perkins & Will, an architecture firm contracted by the district, Potts said. The two other quotes in Golden Bear Boulevard—the ones by Anne Frank and Martin Luther King, Jr., both of which appear to be historically accurate—were selected by Board of Education members. To select the third quote, Principal Andrew Theado was provided two quotes, one attributed to Tubman and the other to Mr. Rogers, the children’s television host. Theado solicited feedback from various students, who “overwhelmingly chose the one attributed to Harriet Tubman,” he wrote in an email.
The misattribution of the Tubman quote was brought to the district’s attention when the building opened in August by a UA resident, Potts said. The district has not yet re-evaluated the authenticity of the quote, but Potts said that it would be taken down or replaced if found to be inaccurate.
“If that quote is inaccurate, then we’ll have to change it,” he said in an interview earlier this year. “So we will definitely be looking into it at some point.”
The quote is one among several Tubman misattributions and falsehoods to have cropped up nationally in recent years.
“Over the past 25 years, I’ve watched how new myths have even started,” Larson, the Tubman scholar, said. “There were always old myths that the research has changed the information that we have.”
Larson has a theory for why false Tubman quotes like this one have spread.
Tubman “is sort of that malleable icon that people can use to inspire themselves and to inspire other people,” she said. “But I ask [people] to please look for the authentic quotes and to go to the scholarship—and to use her own voice.”