(Refiling to add dateline, dropped word historical in 13th
By Lacey Johnson
CAMBRIDGE, Md., March 9 Abolitionist Harriet
Tubman's struggle to help roughly 70 slaves escape to freedom
using the Underground Railroad was remembered on Saturday at the
groundbreaking of a Maryland state park in her honor.
An escaped slave herself, Tubman toiled in bondage on the
land that will soon be the 17-acre Harriet Tubman Underground
Railroad State Park on the eastern shore of Maryland's
Construction of the park on open marshland and forests in
Dorchester County marks the 100-year anniversary of the
abolitionist leader's death.
It also coincides with the opening of the Harriet Tubman
Underground Railroad Byway, a 125-mile drive with more than 30
historical stops related to Tubman's early life and the
Underground Railroad. Highlights include the Mason-Dixon Line, a
one-room school, a historic village store with artifacts from
the 1800s and, eventually, the new Harriet Tubman park itself.
"I think the byway is awesome, because we're connecting the
dots again. We're telling the complete story," said Patricia
Ross-Hawkins, 51, a distant relative of Tubman who spoke to the
crowd of more than 200 people at Saturday's celebration. The
morning's events included singing by a local Baptist church
choir, a theatrical speech by a Harriet Tubman re-enactor and
remarks from Govenor Martin O'Malley.
"It's been a long time coming but it's here," she said.
Slated to open in 2015, the park is located on the same land
where Tubman worked as a slave before escaping to Pennsylvania
at the age of 27. While in bondage, she had been rented out for
work throughout the region, including chopping wood on the land
that will now be named after her.
Located next to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, the
park will include walking trails, a garden and a visitor center
with educational exhibits.
"Her descendants had been trying to do something to remember
her," said Clara Small, a Salisbury University history
professor, who is currently researching African-American history
on Maryland's Eastern Shore. "They're trying to make everyone
aware of her contributions."
Long considered an American icon, Tubman led roughly 70
slaves to freedom using the Underground Railroad and later went
on to become a humanitarian and women's suffragist. A modest
Harriet Tubman Museum exists in downtown Cambridge, but local
groups have "fought for over 20 years to memorialize her
better," Small said.
"This is an opportunity for revitalization to the entire
region," said Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley, who is
herself a director descendant of slaves. "Harriet Tubman is too
big a persona to be limited to just one little community like
A number of local parks are already dedicated to Tubman in
cities including Wilmington, Delaware, Knoxville, Tennessee and
Boston, but many lawmakers insist that is not enough.
Last month, U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland
introduced legislation to establish historical national parks
named for Harriet Tubman - one at Tubman's home in Auburn, New
York, and another in eastern Maryland. The U.S. House also is
reviewing a version of the bill.
Congress has considered similar legislation on three
occasions in the past, but each time it failed to rally support.
"We're very optimistic this time around. Especially given
the 100-year anniversary of her death," said Cardin's
spokesperson Susan Sullam.
The state park was expected to bring in more than $200,000
tourist dollars annually, according to Camila Clark,
spokesperson for the state tourism office. Its wider economic
impact, including job creation, was anticipated to be $20
The $21 million cost of the state park project will be
covered mainly by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources,
the State Highway Administration and the U.S. Department of
Transportation, said Josh Davidsburg, spokesman for the
Department of Natural Resources.
Another boost to the local economy will be the byway, with
its dozens of stops in surrounding Dorchester and Caroline
counties, said Clark.
Plans are underway to expand the byway northward, tracing
Tubman's Underground Railroad route all the way to St.
Catharines in Ontario, Canada, Clark said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg. Editing by Andre Grenon)