Another day, another person fooled by a falsely attributed Harriet Tubman quote. Or, as in today’s example, the world’s largest search engine.
This morning, a quick visit to Google dot com brought up a fairly normal webpage: the colorful Google logo, the search bar, the “Google Search” and “I’m Feeling Lucky” buttons. Below that, however, the following line could be found:
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer.” — Harriet Tubman
It’s a lovely sentiment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any historical basis, and there’s no proof Harriet Tubman ever said it.
“I’ve never found it in the primary sources about Harriet Tubman,” Milton Sernett, historian and author of the book Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory, and History, told Gizmodo when reached by phone this morning. “There are a number of things attributed to her,” he added, that get “passed around.” But not all of them are legitimate, and that seems to be the case here, he said.
Kate Clifford Larson, a Harriet Tubman scholar and biographer, also disputes the accuracy of the quote, the full version of which also includes a second sentence: “Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
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“There is no original quote for this. This quote was entirely made up in 2007. There is no documentation, nor historical basis for this quote,” Larson writes on her website.
Google isn’t the only one that was fooled. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted out the full quote yesterday after news broke that Tubman would be included on the $20 bill. He later deleted the tweet, saying, “Right idea, wrong attribution on my Tubman tweet. She didn’t actually say that, but still — incredible progress.”
Moreover, this isn’t the first faux Harriet Tubman quote that has made the rounds: As Gizmodo’s Matt Novak pointed out yesterday, the “quote” that was going viral yesterday—“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves”—also lacks proper historical basis. (It, too, is included on Kate Clifford Larson’s list of BS quotes.)
As for where Google found the quote in the first place, the digital trail of crumbs leads back to the National Women’s History Museum. After we reached out to Google for clarification, however, we noticed that the quote had disappeared, and we can no longer see it on the homepage. We’ll update this post if we hear back.
Update 11:12 am: The slideshow that cites the National Women’s History Museum, which initially described an image of the quote as “Harriet Tubman quotation,” has now been updated to read, “Quote Describing Harriet Tubman as inspiration.”