CAMBRIDGE, Md. — Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently joined National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, local officials and community leaders on Maryland’s Eastern Shore 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 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,” Salazar said at the March 27 celebration. “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 National Park Service’s annual report said that 279 million people visited the national parks in 2011, generating $30.1 billion in economic activity and supporting 252,000 jobs nationwide. 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,” U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., said. “She was tireless in her commitment to fight for those who could not fight themselves.”
The monument includes large sections of landscapes that are significant to Tubman’s early life in Dorchester County and her life as an enslaved person and conductor of the Underground Railroad.
These include Stewart’s Canal, dug by hand by free and enslaved people, including Tubman, between 1810 and the 1830s. The canal is part of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and, although part of the new parks monument, it will continue to be managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The 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 Tubman monument.
The state of Maryland’s Harriet Tubman
Underground Railroad State Park Visitor Center will be another key site in the monument when it opens in 2015.
Often referred to as “the Moses of her people,” Harriet Tubman was born a slave as Araminta Harriet Ross in 1822 in Dorchester County, where she grew up and worked until 1849. At age 27, she fled north through the wetlands and tidal streams that still characterize the 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 and was never caught.
She 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 followed a year later by a grand commemoration of her life featuring, among other notables, Booker T. Washington.
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument is one of five national monuments established by Obama on March 25. The others include the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio, home of a distinguished officer in the U.S. Army who was the third African American to graduate from West Point and the first to achieve the rank of colonel.
Another is 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.
Those three monuments will be managed by the National Park Service. The 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.