Year of the Woman and Black History Month: Harriet Tubman
When sitting down to think about who to write about for February’s Year of the Woman blog post, I could think of no better person than Harriet Tubman, a strong, influential African American female leader in the Chesapeake Bay region. While it doesn’t seem fair that women are only celebrated during the year of 2020, it also doesn’t seem fair that there is only one month (and the shortest, for that matter) to celebrate Black History.
Last fall, I had the opportunity to tour the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which is just one building of the 17 acre Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park. It was at the Visitor Center that I realized two important things. One: how close I grew up to where Harriet Tubman was enslaved and later walked herself and so many other slaves to freedom; and two: Harriet’s continuous heroic efforts after she freed dozens and dozens of slaves.
Harriet Tubman was a slave on a plantation in Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which to me, makes her one of the Chesapeake regions most famous heroes. While the terrain might not look the same as it did during Harriet’s time, you can imagine a young Harriet trekking through the marsh and trapping muskrats. On my way to the Visitors Center, I drove by the house that used to be part of the plantation where Harriet was a slave. Next, along the trail I drove by the village store where Harriet as a young teen was accidentally hit in the head with a two pound weight, leaving her with epileptic episodes periodically throughout her life.
Harriet is known as a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad because she helped so many slaves gain their freedom through the route, but I’m not sure that people understand the extent to which she risked her life to free her parents, brothers, and other family and friends. Harriet made her first journey to freedom in 1849 to Philadelphia by herself. Something I learned at the Visitors Center is that Harriet was married when she made the journey to Philadelphia, PA. Her first journey back to Maryland, she was planning on helping her husband to freedom,only to find out that he had remarried. However, I also learned that about 20 years later, Harriet married a Union soldier, Nelson Davis, who was more than twenty years younger than her.
Not only did Harriet Tubman help dozens of slaves escape to freedom, she continued the journey after the Fugitive Slave Act, which required the return of runaway slaves even if they were in free states. After this became a federal law in 1793, she helped slaves escape even further and helped them find a route to Canada. Harriet didn’t stop there. During the Civil War, she returned south with a group of abolitionists as a nurse where she treated black and white soldiers dying from infections and disease.
Harriet Tubman never stopped working towards creating a hopeful and more livable future for not only African American citizens, but also women. In her later years, Harriet settled in Auburn, New York, however she didn’t let herself get too settled. During the suffragist movement, she worked alongside Susan B. Anthony in favor of women’s right to vote. Who better to speak about women’s equality, then a woman who proved that she has no boundaries? Despite facing a hard life full of trauma, physical labor, and an emotional life journey, Harriet lived to be around 90 years old!
I encourage everyone to celebrate the amazing Harriet Tubman by venturing to Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and exploring the Visitors Center and parts of the Underground Railroad Tour. The Visitors Center is hosting a celebration for Harriet Tubman Day on March 7th, where you can enjoy live music, educational programs, and self-guided activities as the park honors the life and legacy of Harriet Tubman, and the Year of the Woman in Maryland. Also, as of February 10th, you can also check out the new statue in Maryland State House.
- National Women’s History Museum: https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/harriet-tubman
- National Park Service: https://www.nps.gov/hatu/planyourvisit/index.htm
- Maryland Department of Natural Resources: https://news.maryland.gov/dnr/2020/02/24/harriet-tubman-day-celebrated-in-march/
- American Battlefield Trust: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/fugitive-slave-act