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April 3rd, 2013

Obama on establishment of Harriet Tubman monument



President Barack Obama

A proclamation by the President of the United States of America:

Harriet Tubman is an American hero. She was born enslaved, liberated herself, and returned to the area of her birth many times to lead family, friends, and other enslaved African Americans north to freedom. Harriet Tubman fought tirelessly for the Union cause, for the rights of enslaved people, for the rights of women, and for the rights of all. She was a leader in the struggle for civil rights who was forever motivated by her love of family and community and by her deep and abiding faith.

Born Araminta Ross in 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland, on the plantation where her parents were enslaved, she took the name "Harriet" at the time she married John Tubman, a free black man, around 1844. Harriet Tubman lived and worked enslaved in this area from her childhood until she escaped to freedom at age 27 in 1849. She returned to Dorchester County approximately 13 times to free family, friends, and other enslaved African Americans, becoming one of the most prominent "conductors" on the Underground Railroad. In 1859, she purchased a farm in Auburn, New York, and established a home for her family and others, which anchored the remaining years of her life. In the Civil War she supported the Union forces as a scout, spy, and nurse to African-American soldiers on battlefields and later at Fort Monroe, Virginia. After the war, she established the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, which institutionalized a pattern of her life - caring for African Americans in need.

In 1868, the great civil rights leader Frederick Douglass wrote to Harriet Tubman:

I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt "God bless you" has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism.

The "midnight sky and the silent stars" and the Dorchester County landscape of Harriet Tubman’s homeland remain much as they were in her time there. If she were to return to this area today, Harriet Tubman would recognize it.

It was in the flat, open fields, marsh, and thick woodlands of Dorchester County that Tubman became physically and spiritually strong. Many of the places in which she grew up and worked still remain. Stewart’s Canal at the western edge of this historic area was constructed over 20 years by enslaved and free African Americans. Tubman lived near here while working for John T. Stewart. The canal, the waterways it opened to the Chesapeake Bay, and the Blackwater River were the means of conveying goods, lumber, and those seeking freedom.

Near the canal is the Jacob Jackson Home Site, the site of one of the first safe houses along the Underground Railroad. Jackson was a free black man to whom Tubman appealed for assistance in 1854 in attempting to retrieve her brothers and who, because he was literate, would have been an important link in the local communication network. The Jacob Jackson Home Site has been donated to the United States.

Further reinforcing the historical significance and integrity of these sites is their proximity to other important sites of Tubman’s life and work. She was born in the heart of this area at Peter’s Neck at the end of Harrisville Road, on the farm of Anthony Thompson. Nearby is the farm that belonged to Edward Brodess, enslaver of Tubman’s mother and her children. The James Cook Home Site is where Tubman was hired out as a child. She remembered the harsh treatment she received here, long afterward recalling that even when ill, she was expected to wade into swamps throughout the cold winter to haul muskrat traps. A few miles from the James Cook Home Site is the Bucktown Crossroads, where a slave overseer hit the 13-year-old Tubman with a heavy iron as she attempted to protect a fleeing slave, resulting in an injury that affected Tubman for the rest of her life. A quarter mile to the north are Scotts Chapel and the associated African-American graveyard.

Harriet Tubman is revered by many as a freedom seeker and leader of the Underground Railroad. Although Harriet Tubman is known widely, no Federal commemorative site has heretofore been established in her honor, despite the magnitude of her contributions and her national and international stature.

Now, therefore, I, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by section 2 of the Antiquities Act, hereby proclaim, set apart, and reserve as the Harriet Tubman - Underground Railroad National Monument (monument), the objects identified above and all lands and interests in lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States within the boundaries described on the accompanying map, which is attached to and forms a part of this proclamation, for the purpose of protecting those objects. These reserved Federal lands and interests in lands encompass approximately 11,750 acres.

In witness whereof, I set my hand this twenty-fifth day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.


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