Fight For Free­dom

Har­riet Tub­man Un­der­ground Rail­road Visi­tor Cen­ter hon­ors Dorch­ester-born hero

Dorchester Star - - Front Page - By Vic­to­ria Win­gate

Descen­dants of Har­riet Tub­man, dig­ni­taries from the city, coun­try, state and na­tional lev­els, and other in­vited guests gath­ered for the grand open­ing at the Har­riet Tub­man Un­der­ground Rail­road Visi­tor Cen­ter in Dorch­ester Coun­try on Fri­day, March 10, Har­riet Tub­man Day. The state park and visi­tor cen­ter is lo­cated at 4068 Golden Hill Road in Church Creek near Black­wa­ter Na­tional Wildlife Refuge.

Tub­man’s descen­dants and guests wiped away tears dur­ing the pro­gram, which fea­tured re­marks by Gov. Larry Ho­gan; Lt. Gov. Boyd Ruther­ford; U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Su­per­in­ten­dent of the Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources Nita Set­tina; Dorch­ester County Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Ricky Travers; state Sen. Ad­die Eckardt, R37-Mid-Shore; and Deputy Re­gional Di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Park Ser­vice North­east Re­gion Rose Fen­nell.

Comptroller Peter Fran­chot and Trea­surer Nancy Kopp also were in at­ten­dance.

“Har­riet Tub­man’s con­tri­bu­tions to our state and na­tion tran­scend race, gen­der, na­tion­al­ity and re­li­gion, and her legacy con­tin­ues to in­spire oth­ers to this day,” Ho­gan said. “This visi­tor cen­ter is yet an­other way to honor this Mary­land hero, and serves as an in­vi­ta­tion to all peo­ple to learn more about Har­riet Tub­man and how her acts of de­ter­mi­na­tion, courage and self­less­ness im­pacted our na­tion.”

Tub­man was born in Dorch­ester County and lived there as a slave un­til she was nearly 30 years old. She es­caped slav­ery in 1849, yet risked her life to re­turn to the Eastern Shore many times to help oth­ers in their jour­ney to free­dom. She helped about 70 slaves es­cape and led them north. Some went as far north as Canada.

The state park is about 17 acres and fea­tures a 10,000-square foot Lead­er­ship in En­ergy and En­vi­ron­ment De­sign Sil­ver rated visi­tor cen­ter, legacy gar­den and an open-air pavil­ion with a stone fire­place.

The visi­tor cen­ter houses the ex­hibit hall, gift shop, in­for­ma­tion desk, re­search li­brary and re­strooms. Visi­tors be­gin their ex­pe­ri­ence with an im­mer­sive, two- to three-minute au­dio-vis­ual the­ater fea­ture to show a day in the life of Tub­man. Upon ex­it­ing the the­ater, guests can see a three­d­i­men­sional re­con­structed scene of a slave auc­tion at the Dorch­ester County Court­house.

Then visi­tors can ex­plore how the land­scape of the Chop­tank River Re­gion shaped Tub­man’s early life, and the im­por­tance of her faith, fam­ily and com­mu­nity. The ex­hibit also fea­tures in­for­ma­tion about Tub­man’s role as a con­duc­tor on the Un­der­ground Rail­road, and her work as a free­dom fighter, hu­man­i­tar­ian, leader and lib­er­a­tor.

Other ar­eas in the main space pro­vide in­for­ma­tion about her work as a slave, her ex­pe­ri­ence at the Buck­town Vil­lage Store, her strong faith in God and her lib­er­a­tion from slav­ery. Many of the ex­hibits fea­ture touch pan­els and sound sticks to pro­vide ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion and sto­ries.

Fri­day’s pro­gram opened with mu­sic by the choir and brass quar­tet of the Univer­sity of Mary­land Eastern Shore. Har­riet Tub­man reen­ac­tor Mil­li­cent Sparks per­formed a mov­ing por­trayal of Tub­man for the stand­ing-room-only crowd.

A tra­di­tional African li­ba­tion was per­formed by Okomfo Doc­tor Ad­woa Tano (An­gela McMil­lan). Flags were pre­sented by B Com­pany, 54th Mas­sachusetts Vol­un­teer In­fantry Reg­i­ment.

“As a state and as a na­tion, we’ve come a long way since the days when Har­riet Tub­man walked these very lands. But here in Mary­land, we will never for­get that we owe much of that progress to trail­blaz­ers like Har­riet Tub­man, who paved the way for so many oth­ers,” Ho­gan said.

The gov­er­nor pledged to com­mit the nec­es­sary fund­ing to en­sure com­ple­tion of the project, above the $300,000 al­ready in­cluded in the fis­cal year 2018 bud­get.

Cardin praised Tub­man for her ded­i­ca­tion and sac­ri­fice, not only to free­ing slaves, but to fight­ing for the Union dur­ing the Civil War, fight­ing for women’s rights dur­ing the suf­frage move­ment and fight­ing for the el­derly.

“This is truly a great day for our coun­try and a great day for this re­gion,” said Cardin. “The 104th an­niver­sary of the death of Har­riet Tub­man. We cel­e­brate her life to­day.

“She’s an in­spi­ra­tion, and this visi­tor cen­ter is go­ing to be so im­por­tant for telling that story. It is go­ing to bring a lot of peo­ple here. It’s go­ing to help the econ­omy. I know that the lo­cal of­fi­cials will par­tic­u­larly ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that we’re go­ing to be help­ing the econ­omy.”

Set­tina said this park is meant for more than the story of how Tub­man helped slaves to free­dom. The visi­tor cen­ter and by­way stops memo­ri­al­ize her work on the Un­der­ground Rail­road and also paint a pic­ture of who she was as a hu­man be­ing, to share her faith, her love of fam­ily, her joys and her heartaches, she said.

“At 17 acres, this park may be one of the small­est in our sys­tem, but just like Har­riet Tub­man, it will loom largest in the hearts and minds of many around the world,” said Set­tina. “This project has been part of my life for the past eight years, but the col­lec­tive vi­sion that brought us here to­day has been shaped over decades by the fam­ily of Tub­man her­self, by es­teemed his­to­ri­ans, gifted ar­chi­tects, en­gi­neers and artists.”

Travers took a mo­ment to re­flect on two in­di­vid­u­als im­por­tant to the cel­e­bra­tion of Tub­man’s life and legacy — Eve­lyn Townsend and John Creighton — who passed away be­fore the park was com­pleted.

Townsend was in­stru­men­tal in the de­vel­op­ment of the Har­riet Tub­man Mu­seum in down­town Cambridge.

Creighton worked tire­lessly to doc­u­ment the life sto­ries of Tub­man. He was hon­ored re­cently with a cer­e­mo­nial tree plant­ing at the Har­riet Tub­man Me­mo­rial Gar­den Park in Cambridge.

“Words can­not de­scribe how im­por­tant this visi­tor cen­ter is, not just to Dorch­ester County, not just to the Eastern Shore, but the State of Mary­land, also, and the na­tion,” Travers said. “This will al­low us an op­por­tu­nity to show­case how proud we are to be the birth­place and home to one of Amer­ica’s great­est he­roes, Har­riet Tub­man.

“To think, she toiled in these lands. She trapped muskrats. She logged with her fa­ther. She worked in these fields right here, the very land that you can im­merse your­self into to­day.”

Fen­nell shared a per­sonal story about how Tub­man in­spires her. She said when­ever she needs to make an im­por­tant de­ci­sion, she asks her­self what Tub­man would do, and that’s the path she takes.

She also praised the many de­part­ments and in­di­vid­u­als who came to­gether to make the park pos­si­ble.

“From the very be­gin­ning of the Na­tional Park Ser­vice in 1916, pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships have played a crit­i­cal role in pro­vid­ing mem­o­rable visi­tor ex­pe­ri­ences,” Fen­nell said. “Part­ner­ships like the one we are cel­e­brat­ing to­day are now a best prac­tice for en­gag­ing new au­di­ences, pre­serv­ing land­scapes and telling amaz­ing sto­ries. To­day is a cul­mi­na­tion of the hard work and com­mit­ment of so many part­ners.”

The cer­e­mony closed with the ring­ing of the Ap­pam­a­tox Bell, for­merly owned by two slaves eman­ci­pated by the Civil War, Daniel and Phoebe Scruggs. Ora McCoy, their great-grand­daugh­ter, owns the bell now.

After the cer­e­mony and cut­ting of the rib­bon, Ho­gan, Fran­chot and other dig­ni­taries took a pri­vate tour of the ex­hibits with the descen­dants of Har­riet Tub­man.

The pub­lic grand open­ing of the Har­riet Tub­man Un­der­ground Rail­road Visi­tor Cen­ter was held Satur­day, March 11, and con­tin­ues Sun­day, March 12. Pro­gram­ming in­cludes a per­for­mance by re-en­ac­tor Mil­li­cent Sparks, a haiku and cre­ative writ­ing work­shop with Na­tional Park Ser­vice Cen­ten­nial Poet Lau­re­ate Dr. So­nia Sanchez, a sim­u­lated Un­der­ground Rail­road jour­ney with his­to­rian Tony Co­hen and a book sign­ing by Tub­man bi­og­ra­pher Dr. Kate Clif­ford Lar­son.

For more in­for­ma­tion about the Har­riet Tub­man Un­der­ground Rail­road State Park and Visi­tor Cen­ter in Dorch­ester County, visit dnr2.mar yland.gov/pub­li­clands/pages/eastern/tub man. aspx.

PHOTOS BY DUSTIN HOLT

Gov. Larry Ho­gan speaks at the Har­riet Tub­man Un­der­ground Rail­road Visi­tor Cen­ter Grand Open­ing Fri­day, March 10.

PHOTOS BY DUSTIN HOLT

Comptroller Peter Fran­chot, left, Trea­surer Nancy Kopp, Lt. Gov. Boyd Ruther­ford, Na­tional Parks Ser­vice North­east Re­gional Deputy Di­rec­tor Rose Fen­nell, Sen. Ad­die Eckardt, Dorch­ester County Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Ricky Travers, Mary­land Na­tional Parks Su­per­in­ten­dent Nita Set­tina, and U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin join Gov. Larry Ho­gan at the Har­riet Tub­man Un­der­ground Rail­road Visi­tor Cen­ter Grand Open­ing in Dorch­ester County Fri­day, March 10.

Har­riet Tub­man Un­der­ground Rail­road Visi­tor Cen­ter fea­tures many ex­hibits.

Har­riet Tub­man re-en­ac­tor Mil­li­cent Sparks gives an in­spi­ra­tional por­trayal of Tub­man at the Har­riet Tub­man Un­der­ground Rail­road Visi­tor Cen­ter Grand Open­ing Fri­day, March 10.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Ruther­ford speaks at the Har­riet Tub­man Un­der­ground Rail­road Visi­tor Cen­ter Grand Open­ing Fri­day, March 10.

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