Understand, Celebrate Her Story in Maryland.
By Renée S. Gordon
On the 104th anniversary of Harriet Tubman’s death (which was March 10, 1913) Maryland’s Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center opened. She was nearly 95 years old when she died in Auburn, New York and it is her indomitable spirit, undaunted courage and more than 80 years of service that are honored and celebrated in the center and surrounding Underground Railroad Byway.
Araminta Ross was born enslaved in Dorchester County, the child of Benjamin Ross and Harriet Green. When she was around 12 she was sent to a local store where she refused to help stop a running slave from another plantation. An overseer threw a two-pound lead weight at him, missed and fractured Harriet’s skull. She was carried to her owner’s home and remained uncared for and unconscious for two days after which she was returned to work. For the remainder of her life she suffered from visions, vivid dreaming, epilepsy and sudden periods of unconsciousness.
Later she wed a free black man but fearing sale away from the area she fled and he refused to accompany her. Guided by the North Star and aided by both black and white individuals, she reached Philadelphia where she worked as a maid for wages. She soon began returning south to liberate family members and others. In 1851 she returned for her husband but found he had remarried. She is credited with liberating 300 people and assisting hundreds of others. She brought her parents north to Auburn in the late 1850s.
During the Civil War she served as an army nurse, spy, scout and traveled for a time with Colonel Shaw and the 54th U.S. Colored Troops. In 1869 she wed Nelson Ross a former member of the USCT. Congress awarded her a pension in recognition of her service.
The 10,000-sq. ft., LEED-certified Visitor Center is the jewel in the crown of the 17-acre Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park. The facility consists of a research library, gift shop and exhibit hall. Your self-guided tour begins with a movie that presents an overview of Tubman’s life and the impact of the land, slavery experience and religion on her story.
After the film, walk through the life of Harriet Tubman via a series of chronological galleries. The focal point of each area is a life-sized sculpture that interprets a significant event in her life and accompanying text provides additional context while photographs, artworks and interactive kiosks round out this rich history. An outdoor Legacy Garden offers a .75-mile walking trail and 2,600-sq. ft. picnic pavilion.
There are 45 sites along the 125-mile Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. Maryland’s Eastern Shore is filled with areas that have changed very little since Tubman’s time. You can experience the natural beauty and outdoor recreation that are unique to the Eastern Shore as well as view the region as Harriet would have seen it. The byway extends from Cambridge, Maryland to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Bucktown Village Store is where Harriet received the blow to her head. The store looks much as it did then. Guided tours can be arranged and are excellent. An on-site outfitter rents bicycles and kayaks. The store is located five minutes from The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center.
Maryland designated March 10th as Harriet Tubman Day and that was apt for a variety of reasons including the fact that March is Women’s History Month. Harriet is a role model for everyone. She was a woman, illiterate, disabled, poor and black and by any standard should never have succeeded. She remains a woman for our time: she resisted, she persisted, she overcame.
– Photos by Renée S. Gordon
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