Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand introduced legislation to create a National Historical Park preserving and promoting the life of Harriet Ross Tubman, the most famous “conductor” of the anti-slavery resistance network known as the Underground Railroad. The Harriet Tubman National Historical Park and The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park Act would establish two parks, one in New York and one in Maryland. The National Historic Park in Auburn, NY would focus on her later years where she was active in the suffrage movement and established one of the first incorporated homes for aged African Americans. The National Historic Park in Maryland will trace her life on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where she was one of the leaders on the Underground Railroad. The National Parks Service (NPS) endorsed the legislation, determining through a multi-year study that Auburn is a suitable location for a national park to preserve and promote the life and legacy of Harriet Ross Tubman.
“This legislation will provide a big boost to our regional tourism industry as people from across the country flock to Auburn to visit the Harriet Tubman House,” said Senator Schumer. “Harriet Tubman is an American hero, and we should be honoring and preserving her life’s work so that it may inspire future generations. Thanks to this bill, the individuals who have been working so hard to protect her legacy in Auburn will get aide to help them maintain the site as a monument to the freedom and equality that we cherish.”
“Harriet Tubman is a remarkable American hero who continues to inspire me today,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Her unwavering commitment to helping others while risking her own life in the long fight for equality has left an indelible legacy. This national park in Auburn, NY would provide an important place where men and women of all backgrounds can come together and reflect on the significance of her life.”
In New York, the bill authorizes grants for the preservation, rehabilitation, and restoration of the many Harriet Tubman properties. The allocation of these funds would be determined by a locally driven planning process after the passage of the bill. The Harriet Tubman National Historical Park would include important historical structures in Auburn, New York. They include Tubman’s home, the Home for the Aged that she established, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church and rectory. The legislation would also help boost tourism in the region by providing funds for the development and construction of interpretive historical materials. Thematically linking several historical sites would help visitors better understand Harriet Tubman’s important contribution to Central New York and the United States as a whole.
Harriett Tubman has a deep history in both New York and Maryland. Harriet Tubman was born in Dorchester County, Maryland, where she spent nearly 30 years as a slave. She escaped slavery in 1849, but returned for more than 10 years to Dorchester and Caroline counties where she led hundreds of African Americans to freedom. In 1857, Harriet relocated her parents from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada to Auburn, NY. Soon after, she purchased land in Auburn and spent the rest of her life there. In 1913, she was buried in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, NY.
A study released by the National Parks Service (NPS) in November 2008, which calls for several measures that are already contained in Senators Schumer and Gillibrand’s legislation, is the culmination of a multi-year study of how to best preserve and promote the substantively rich, but geographically varied sites that make up Harriet Tubman’s legacy. This resource study, authorized by law in 2000, establishes a road-map for the NPS to provide direct funding, matching grants and operational support for a new multi-state National Park. In the study, the NPS considered three different plans for preserving Harriet Tubman’s legacy and concluded that the NPS should provide direct funding and staffing, while retaining a large measure of local input and control. Known as alternative “C”, the NPS concluded that it was the most “effective and efficient” way to proceed.
Schumer and Gillibrand’s legislation would provide a shot in the arm to Auburn and the surrounding region, while preserving and honoring the story of a true American hero. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin of Maryland are also sponsors of the legislation.