WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and U.S. Representative Andy Harris (R-Md.-01) lauded action in the House of Representatives today that sets the stage for votes in both the House and Senate to establish Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Parks in Maryland and New York. Senator Cardin and Dr. Harris worked together to ensure that the park designation appropriately honors the life and work of Harriet Tubman while ensuring important protections for local property owners who were concerned about their property rights.
“Harriet Tubman was an iconic figure our nation’s history, for whom liberty and freedom were not just ideas,” said Senator Cardin. “I was proud to partner with Dr. Harris to properly honor the legacy of her life’s work and contributions while protecting Marylanders’ rights. More than 100 years after her death, Harriet Tubman will become the first African-American woman and first individual woman to have a National Historical Park named in her honor. It’s a great day for the Eastern Shore and our country.”
“Through bipartisan work with Senator Cardin, we are able to create a national park to honor Harriet Tubman while protecting local property owners,” Dr. Harris said. “When the local community raised concerns about property rights, our offices worked together to find ways to protect the citizens while ensuring the park could move forward. I appreciate Senator Cardin’s willingness to work together to accomplish this for the Eastern Shore.”
The official designation of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park is expected to be approved as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Within the legislation, property rights are protected by requiring the federal government to acquire land from willing sellers, prohibiting the use of condemnation to acquire land, protecting land use rights in the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge (including hunting, fishing and agriculture), protecting rights of private properties adjacent to the park or monument – including activities that may be seen or heard from within the park or monument, and requiring a local public meeting to be held by the National Park Service.
The new national historical park in Maryland will trace Tubman’s early life on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where she was born and later escaped from slavery to become one of the leaders on the Underground Railroad. The bill also establishes a national historical park in Auburn, N.Y., to commemorate the later years of Tubman’s life when she was active in the women’s suffrage movement and in providing for the welfare of aged African Americans. In 2013, President Barack Obama established the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, setting the stage for National Historical Park designation.
Together, the national historical park and monument will preserve the unique landscape associated with Harriet Tubman’s life on the Eastern Shore and her legacy as the most famous “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. The park is also expected to increase tourism, create jobs and strengthen Dorchester County’s local economy. In 2010, tourism represented one-fifth of Dorchester County’s employment, generating more than $132 million for the local economy.
Harriet Tubman was born in Dorchester County, Md., where she spent nearly 30 years as a slave. She escaped slavery in 1849, but returned to the Eastern Shore several times over the course of 10 years to lead hundreds of African Americans to freedom in the North. Known as “Moses” by African-American and white abolitionists, she reportedly never lost a “passenger” on the Underground Railroad.
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park would include historically important landscapes including:
- Upon enactment, the portion of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument that is owned and managed by the National Park Service will become the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park. This parcel contains the home site of Jacob Jackson, a free black man who used coded letters to help Tubman communicate with family and others and who also offered up his house as one of the first safe houses along the Underground Railroad leading out of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The Conservation Fund donated the 480-acre property, adjacent to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, to the National Park Service for the purposes of establishing the National Monument.
- The bill authorizes the National Park Service to acquire, through deed transfer or through conservation easement on private land, seven non-contiguous parcels of land that hold historical significance to the life of Harriet Tubman.
- The total acreage composition of these parcels is 775 acres in Talbot County, 2,200 in Caroline County, and 2,775 in Dorchester County (this includes the 480 acres that the National Park Service already owns).
- These parcels are significant sites in Harriet Tubman’s life, including her likely birthplace, the Brodess Plantation parcel where she worked as a young girl; the Cook Plantation parcel, where as a teenager she worked as a seamstress; and Poplar Neck plantation, where Harriet Tubman escaped slavery in 1849.
- The bill clarifies that the existing federal lands owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which are also part of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, will remain under the management of the USFWS and part of the national monument.
- In Auburn, N.Y., The Harriet Tubman National Historical Park would include important historical structures. They include Tubman’s home, the Home for the Aged that she established, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church, and the Fort Hill Cemetery, where she is buried.