CAMBRIDGE, Md. – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar joined National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, local officials and community stakeholders on Maryland’s Eastern Shore yesterday to celebrate President Barack Obama’s establishment of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument as the 399th unit of the National Park System.
The new monument commemorates the life of the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, a fearless woman who enabled many enslaved people to emancipate themselves and escape to freedom in the North.
“Harriet Tubman’s selfless commitment to fight for the freedom of those unjustly held in bondage and seeking justice and civil rights for all Americans is an important chapter in the story of our country,” said Salazar. “The monument will not only remind us that a single courageous person can achieve extraordinary gains for humanity, but it will also create jobs and boost the local economy through increased tourism.”
The U.S. National Park Service’s annual peer-reviewed report found that the 279 million visitors to American national parks generated $30.1 billion in economic activity and supported 252,000 jobs nationwide in 2011. More than one third of that total spending, or $13 billion, went directly into communities within 60 miles of a park and the national parks return more than $10 for every $1 the American taxpayer invests in the National Park Service.
“Harriet Tubman was a courageous fighter who delivered countless slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad,” said U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.). “She was tireless in her commitment to fight for those who could not fight for themselves. Designating a national monument is an important step as we move towards the establishment of National Historic Parks to commemorate her heroic works.”
The new national monument is located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and includes large sections of landscapes that are significant to Tubman’s early life in Dorchester County and evocative of her life as an enslaved person and conductor of the Underground Railroad. These include Stewart’s Canal, dug by free and enslaved people, including Tubman, between 1810 and the 1830s. Stewart’s Canal is part of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Although the canal is part of the new national monument, it will continue to be managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The new monument also includes the home site of Jacob Jackson, a free Black man who used coded letters to help Tubman communicate with family and others. The Jacob Jackson Home Site was donated to the National Park Service by The Conservation Fund for inclusion in the new national monument.
The State of Maryland’s Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park Visitor Center will be another key attraction in the national monument when it opens in 2015.
“As our nation’s storyteller, the National Park Service is committed to connecting people with the places and stories of the diverse peoples who have come together to create the common heritage of the United States,” said Jarvis. “Harriet Tubman’s story and accomplishments are profound and inspirational and we are excited to be able to preserve and interpret part of her life’s story. As we approach the National Park Service’s centennial anniversary in 2016, this designation lays an important foundation to reconnect Americans, especially young Americans, to our national heritage and treasured landscapes.”
Often referred to as “the Moses of her people,” Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross) was born enslaved in 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland, where she grew up and worked until 1849. At age 27 she emancipated herself and fled north through the wetlands and tidal streams that still characterize Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Tubman achieved fame in her lifetime by stealthily returning many times to the familiar Maryland landscape to lead family members and friends out of slavery. She was never captured and she became one of the most prominent “conductors” on the Underground Railroad.
Tubman also served as a nurse and a spy for the Union during the Civil War and later became active in the women’s suffrage movement. Her death on March 10, 1913 was reported in the New York Times and was followed a year later by a grand commemoration of her life featuring, among other notables, Booker T. Washington.
Cherie Butler has been named acting superintendent of the new monument. Butler is currently management assistant for the National Park Service’s northeast regional office in Philadelphia and has previously served as the chief of interpretation and education for seven national park sites in New York City.
“Harriet Tubman’s life and work are a critical chapter in America’s story,” said Butler. “I am grateful for the opportunity to work with strong and thoughtful partners and a very passionate community who are equally committed to honoring her legacy.”
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument is one of five national monuments established on Monday by President Obama. The President also designated the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio, home of a distinguished officer in the United States Army who was the third African-American to graduate from West Point and the first to achieve the rank of Colonel; and the First State National Monument in Delaware, a monument to tell the story of the early Dutch, Swedish, Finnish and English settlement of the colony of Delaware, as well as Delaware’s role as the first state to ratify the Constitution. These three national monuments will be managed by the National Park Service.
Two additional monuments, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico and San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington, will be administered by Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.
First exercised by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 to designate Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, the Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents to protect unique natural and historic features, such as the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients.
For more information about the park and the life of Harriet Tubman, visit www.nps.gov/hatu