WASHINGTON — The story of Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery to become the best-known conductor on the Underground Railroad, could gain added recognition if a few determined lawmakers get their way.
In honor of Black History Month, Democratic Sens. Benjamin Cardin and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have renewed efforts to honor Tubman with a national park in each state.
The National Historical Park in Maryland would include historically significant sites from Tubman’s early life on the Eastern Shore, where she was born and spent 30 years as a slave before escaping in 1849. She later returned to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom over a 10-year period.
The second park, in Auburn, would focus on her later years, when she was active in the women’s suffrage movement and in helping elderly African-Americans.
Proponents say the two parks proposed in the legislation would stimulate tourism, create jobs and recognize a civil rights icon whose story is known worldwide.
“These two national parks in Maryland and Auburn, N.Y., would provide an important place where men and women of all backgrounds can come together and reflect on the significance of her life,” Gillibrand said.
This is the third time since 2009 that lawmakers have pushed legislation to honor Tubman with a national park. The bill does not have a House sponsor, and it’s not clear if this year’s Senate bill has a better chance than the previous attempts, given the national focus on spending cuts.
Park legislation may face additional scrutiny in the GOP-led House Committee on Natural Resources, where lawmakers are concerned about the National Park Service’s $9 billion maintenance backlog. The park service says it is using $750 million in economic stimulus money to help pay for high-priority needs this year.
Cardin said the maintenance backlog shouldn’t jeopardize “a unique opportunity to move forward in preserving property for future generations.”
The bill would not require an increase in the National Park Service’s budget, he said.
“I don’t look at it as a bill that’s going to spend more money,” Cardin said. “We look at it as a bill that will preserve our heritage for future generations.”