Honoring Harriet Tubman

December 24, 2006

Maryland's most legendary woman was admired by presidents and poets, had her image on two postage stamps and her life story celebrated in song by Woody Guthrie, but she never received the respect she deserves in her native state. Finally, more than 150 years after the self-emancipated Eastern Shore-born Harriet Tubman helped lead hundreds of slaves out of bondage on the Underground Railroad, efforts are under way to see that the woman known as the African-American Moses receives her due. It's been a long time in coming.

Mrs. Tubman was born a slave in the early 1820s in Dorchester County. By the time she died in 1913 in Auburn, N.Y., she was acclaimed internationally for her role as an Underground Railroad conductor, a spy for federal forces during the Civil War, a humanitarian, a suffragist and a philanthropist. While her adopted town preserved her home and burial site, Mrs. Tubman remained largely forgotten or ignored by her birthplace until recently.

In 2000, Congress directed the National Park Service to study ways in which sites associated with the Tubman legacy could be preserved and, if possible, merged into the national park system. Auburn and Dorchester County are vying for honors as a primary park site. Though Congress will soon decide what to do with the study, it would be wise to incorporate both areas into the park service's network.

In the meantime, Maryland groups should continue their endeavors to promote Mrs. Tubman's story by supporting the nascent Cambridge museum in her honor and the increasingly popular Underground Railroad driving tour through Dorchester and Caroline counties, and by securing property for a future Tubman interpretive center. These efforts will go a long way in convincing the National Park Service and Congress that Mrs. Tubman is no longer ignored on the Shore and in establishing a rapprochement with history that Dorchester sorely needs.

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