There’s a crack in everything

The Liberty Bell
Photo by Tony the Misfit on Flickr – [1], CC BY 2.0,

Well, to paraphrase as Leonard Cohen sang, “Everything has a crack in it, that’s how the light gets in…”

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in

From Anthem by Leonard Cohen

It appears I was “snookered” along with a whole lot of other people on the quote on our plaque.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”  -Harriet Tubman (1822-1913)

It appears that Harriet Tubman did not say the words attributed to her on the plaque.

Thanks to Toronto historian Kathy Grant, I’m aware of the problem with the plaque wording.

Here’s the back story. We did our best three years ago in terms of due diligence, believing our sources were valid and checking with various authorities. However, this was before the word was out there on the Net that this was very likely not Harriet Tubman’s words even though a scholar discovered that the quote didn’t begin to appear until 2007.

Here was one of our original sources for the quote:

Barbara Lee, Renegade for peace and justice Congresswoman Barbara Lee speaks for me, 2008 cover
Barbara Lee, Renegade for Peace and Justice: Congresswoman Barbara Lee speaks for Me, 2008 see p. 125

Our own [belated] search for original 19th century sources came up with nothing, no evidence that Harriet Tubman said this or anything like this. However, there is an eerie echoe from another leading Black American:

How easy, then, by emphasis and omission to make children believe that every great soul the world ever saw was  a white man’s soul; that every great thought the world ever knew was a white man’s thought; that every great deed the world ever did was a white man’s deed; that every great dream the world ever sang was a white man’s dream. — W.E.B. Dubois, W.E.B. Dubois, Darkwater: voices from within the veil, 1920, p. 2

The sentiments in the quote purportedly from Harriet Tubman are still true though the quotes we have from her are generally pithy and too the point. 

Harriet Tubman, on bringing people to Canada from Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman By Sarah Hopkins Bradford.

But the real value of the plaque is not that quote but the recognition of the people and families who came here and made their homes here after escaping slavery. Their lives were hard, marked by tragedy all too often.

March 21, 1876 The Times
But from the earliest days here in Toronto, members of Leslieville’s black community like the Cheney family were involved in the Underground Railroad. Globe, April 29, 1851

I can personally vouch for the research on that and am more than happy to share the sources with anyone who is interested. If it brings a little more light to this history through this particular crack, then good.
“When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven”.

Harriet Tubman, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman by Sarah Hopkins Bradford, 1869

PS We should say up front that the quote is “attributed to Harriet Tubman”.

Joanne Doucette


Published by Leslieville Historical Society

Welcome to the Leslieville Historical Society's website. Please feel free to join us, to ask questions, to attend walking tours and other events, and to celebrate Leslieville's past while creating our future. Guy Anderson, President, Leslieville Historical Society and Joanne Doucette, local historian and webmaster.

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