SATURDAY, March 9, 2013 — 100 years since the death of Harriet Ross Tubman
Narrow roads wend through flat expanse of bare fields. An occasional distant farm house can be glimpsed against a back drop of scrub pine forests, or creeks’ glittering waters. Closer to the road, a few rough cottages sit beneath spreading trees, bare in the early March morning, except for tufts of mistletoe mysteriously perched on high branches. No one is in sight.
Our bus, way too hefty, and outlandishly modern in this primal setting, lumbers around a curve. There is a glistening tent, rising up from the brown field like a promise. We clamber off the bus. The driving beat and powerful voices of the New Revelations Baptist Church Choir beacons us to enter the tent. The crowd is gathering- uniforms of park rangers, palace guards, choir members in bright red and white robes, the rough-wool blue coats of Union soldiers of the USCT- Massachusetts 54th mingle with the ordinary dress of visitors from near and far.
A joyous feeling engulfs us. A century and a half later, the life and legacy of Harriet Ross Tubman is being recognized and celebrated with the designation of her birth-place, and site of her early life devoted to the freedom of the oppressed slaves – Maryland State Park, soon to also be a National Park, a center for the interpretation of this time in the Nation’s history, will soon rise from this still, flat landscape. Dignitaries, Maryland and National officials, reinactors, and people seeking more knowledge about American’s heroes in the fight for justice and civil rights fill the tent and are thrilled with the progress, finally, of this recognition.
Harriet, herself, appears, brought to life by reenactor Millicent Sparks and in her back-woodsy Eastern Shore accent tells us about her early life, and the successes in bringing her people to freedom.
Tubman’s descendent, Patricia Ross-Hawkins, expresses her gratitude that this recognition of her ancestor is becoming a reality.
Victoria Jackson-Stanley, Mayor of Cambridge, welcomes us.
The Director of the National Park Service, Jonathan B. Jarvis, is encouraged that this place will expand the realm of the Parks to tell the story of all the people of our Nation.
Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Interior, and close associate of Barack Obama, praises this project, and reiterates the importance of expanding National Sites to teach and celebrate all people.
Governor Martin O’Malley recounts times his father had brought him and his brothers to visit the Blackwater National Preserve where they heard the Harriet Tubman story, and were deeply moved and curious about her ability to survive and triumph. This moment, O’Malley says, is the culmination of his dream.
The United States Colored Troops (USCT) 54th Massachusetts men, with flags and guns, stand guard at the stage, and at the ground breaking… where dignitaries toss the ritual shovel-full of dirt. The building has begun, and the story will come alive to thousands of visitors who have waited to really learn about this historic National hero.
The Harriet Tubman 2013 Centennial Commemoration, Saturday, March 9, 2013 at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway and State Park, Cambridge, Maryland.
The event was made possible by the following agencies: Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development; Maryland Office of Tourism; Maryland Department of Natural Resources; Maryland Park Service; Maryland Department of Transportation; State Highway Administration; Maryland Department of Planning; Maryland Historical Trust; Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, U.S. Department of Transportation; Federal Highway Administration; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service;Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge; Department of Interior; National Park Service; Dorchester County Tourism and the Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area; Caroline Office of Tourism; Caroline Economic Development Corporation.
Special Thanks to The Harriet Tubman Organization, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park Working Group and the Conservation Fund.