Golden Legacy Harriet Tubman Review

By | Thursday, February 04, 2021 Leave a Comment
Golden Legacy: Harriet Tubman
It occurred to me recently that, despite referring to the Golden Legacy series on a number of occassions over the years, I've never actually reviewed any of them. Since I just looked at a more recent Harriet Tubman comic earlier this week, I thought I'd take a closer look at the Golden Legacy version of the same. (For the record, my copy dates from 1976. I don't know what changes may have been implemented before or since that printing.) The issue was written by Joan Bacchus and drawn by Tom Feelings (whose Tommy Traveller series I reviewed a few years ago).

Tubman's biography here is, of course, considerably shorter than the other one I looked at. This is a simple pamphlet comic and the main story clocks in at only 24 pages, so things move along very quickly and a lot of details and incidents get left out. That said, the narrative is easy to follow, although it does rely on the narrative captions more than the Show Me History version. Although the broad strokes of Tubman's life are the same, there's some curious differences in the details between the two versions. I'm not expert enough to say which is more accurate, but the diffences are mostly in the settings and visible context events take place in. When Tubman is given a concussion when she's teenager, for example, the Show Me History version puts the event in a 'downtown' store where the Golden Legacy version places it more squarely on the plantation property itself. Or when she's taking some of her family up to Canada and is stopped to check her (falsified!) papers, the Show Me History version places that on the train well after it's on its way, whereas the Golden Legacy version places it at the train station before she even boards.

Feelings' art is not well served by the printing format here. He provides a decent amout of detail and adds some interesting atmospheric touches, but the cheap newsprint blurs the linework a bit, obscuring some of the details. His line shading, particularly when coupled with the generally darker hues the (unknown) colorist used, further muddies the printed page. There's some good artwork there, but it's often hard to see in the final production. In hindsight, that's probably why I have a recollection of these issues generally having inferior art -- it's not that the artists weren't talented, the details just aren't readily apparent.

The most striking difference between the Golden Legacy and Show Me History versions, though, is the overall tone. I mentioned the other day how, just in skimming the issue, the Golden Legacy version didn't try to obscure any of the violence. Upon closer reading, it has a much more visceral feel and it's unflinching in its portrayal of not only slavery but Tubman's disability. The concussion I noted earlier left her with sometimes debilitating narcolepsy. The Show Me History version mentions this at the outset and again towards the end when she receives an operation that cures (or at least severely subsides) it, but the Golden Legacy version shows that as the ongoing issue it was. How she was unable to work for a year after the incident and only then with lighter housework at first. How, years later, she would collapse while actively leading slaves on the Underground Railroad, and they had to sit and wait until she got better. While the Golden Legacy version skips some good chunks of Tubman's life due to space limitations and they don't include any contextual social details, they do a much better job conveying the emotional context. The book doesn't have all the details you might want to know about Tubman's life, but it does have a much greater emotional resonance.

The issue concludes with another few half-page prose biographies of other prominent Black figures, as do the other Golden Legacy issues. They're each only a few paragraphs in length, but they highlight figures that are almost always overlooked in biography series like these. This issue calls attention to: Daniel Hale Williams (the first person to successfully operate on the human heart), Ira Aldrige (a hugely popular and decorated stage actor from the early 1800s), Bishop James Augustine Healy (the first Black Catholic Bishop), and Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable (founder of Chicago). There's also a further two half-pages that relays a (very) brief history of Black men in the US armed forces, particularly poignent when you recall it was written in 1966, barely a decade after the US Army fully integrated.

For the goal of getting kids interested in history, and encouraging them to seek out more information about figures like Harriet Tubman, I think the Golden Legacy books will be more successful. They might be shorter and light on details, but they do a much better job connecting with the reader and getting them emotionally and intellectually engaged. I'd easily recommend this over other similar biography series I've read. Fortunately, you can still get a collected edition of the entire series!
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