harriett_tubman_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

ATLANTA — Descendants of the abolitionist and women’s suffragist Harriet Tubman convened in Atlanta recently for a proclamation presentation by the Atlanta City Council and week-long events reuniting family members from across the nation.

Echoing the words of Tubman’s enduring command to passengers aboard the Underground Railroad, “Keep Goin!,” family members accepted the proclamation honoring the legacy of their great ancestor from author-attorney Harold Michael Harvey and performed skits depicting Tubman’s life during the opening reception of the Sights and Sounds Black Cultural Museum Exhibit at Greenbriar Mall. 

Tubman’s family members, ranging in age from 10 months to 79 years and from various states, including Auburn, N.Y., Tubman’s final home, recounted vivid stories of how they “kept going” through many trials, including divorce, unemployment and illness. Several members also spoke of academic accomplishments and projects and papers done collectively among them on Tubman that all received A grades. 

“Keep going means many things to us,” said Geraldine Copes Daniels, great grand-niece and oldest surviving relative of Tubman. “It means get educated, go to college, get a career.”

Daniels’ daughter, Rita Daniels, a domestic violence survivor added:  “We’ve all gone through a lot. I’ve been beat down and left for dead but setback is not in our DNA.”

Tubman suffered from seizures and sleeping spells, the result of being struck in the head with a two-pound weight by an angry overseer at age 12.

She endured hardships throughout her life as a slave and Civil War spy and for defiantly leading 300 men, women and children to freedom along the covert and dangerous water and land routes that became known as the Underground Railroad. 

She used the master's horse and buggy, packed a sedative drug for babies who might cry and carried a shotgun for both pursuers — and for scared fugitives who considering turning back.

Her most harrowing mission was rescuing her parents, who were freed slaves forced into continued labor by masters who disregarded their legally granted free status.  Aided by compassionate Quakers, Native Americans and an unyielding faith in God, Tubman never lost a passenger. 

Carrying out 19 missions, Tubman eventually retired to Auburn, where she purchased a home from New York Sen. William H. Seward, continued to aid destitute children, helped to create freedmen's schools and founded the Home for Aged and Indigent Colored People.

She died in 1913 but received several posthumous honors, including a bronze memorial by the city of Auburn at  the Cayuga County Courthouse, dedication by Eleanor Roosevelt of the Liberty Ship in 1944, a U.S. Postal Service commemorative stamp, and opening of the Freedom Park in Auburn.

New York and Georgia are the only two states that officially recognize Tubman, otherwise known as “Moses” and “General Tubman.”  It is the family’s dream to have a federal holiday established for her heroism similar to the nationally recognized Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and to create a foundation to preserve her legacy.

“Even Martin Luther King would not have been in place if it was not for Tubman, who broke away,” said Rita Daniels.

Legislative bills currently in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate propose the creation of a Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn and a similar park in Maryland, where she was born and from where she delivered most slaves from bondage. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., says passage of the two bills may be difficult but it is the family’s hopes that they will pass.

Sassafras Ridge Mountain Development will also host Geraldine Daniels in the North Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina Triangle, where the Underground Railroad’s “trail of tears” is chartered through.

“She was a fearless soldier. There was no Harriet Tubman in books when I was in school. The nation needs to know and remember who she was. That is one of the reasons why we have all come together and will keep goin,’” said Geraldine Daniels.