by Christine Hansen
Hundreds, including descendants of Harriet Tubman, gathered in Capitol Hill yesterday to rally in support of legislation that would create historic national parks in Maryland and New York in honor of Harriet Tubman, one of the most recognized leaders behind the Underground Railroad. If the legislation passes, Maryland officials expect a long-term economic impact of $20 million annually to the State and Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Supporters chanted, “We want a park! We want a park!” as a Harriet Tubman historian and re-enactor led the charge up to Capitol Hill.
“No is not an option! Jobs, jobs, jobs! We want a park!” the crowd chanted. Many supporters rose before sunrise to take a bus from Maryland’s Eastern Shore to the nation’s capital. After the rally, the crowd dispersed to lobby members of Congress on the bill.
The federal legislation, co-authored by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, would create national historic parks along Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where Tubman was born, and Auburn, New York, where Tubman was an activist for the women’s suffrage movement and the welfare of aged African-Americans. In Maryland, the legislation would dub the Eastern Shore area where Tubman was born, lived and traveled during her work to free slaves, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park. Under the legislation, Maryland’s Harriet Tubman State Park would open in 2013 with the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor’s Center, in time to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Harriet Tubman’s passing.
“Harriet on the Hill day shows that there is strong support for the creation of two national historic parks to honor the legacy of Harriet Tubman, a true American patriot, for whom liberty and freedom were not just concepts,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin.
The Senator sponsored a luncheon for the Harriet Tubman supporters at the Capitol Visitors Center, where he and other representatives, including Maryland Representative Andy Harris and New York Representative Richard Hanna, spoke to constituents and supporters.
“Harriet Tubman lived the principles of freedom and liberty and she shared that freedom with hundreds of others. These two parks will make it possible for Marylanders and the entire nation to trace her life’s work and remember all that she was able to accomplish,” Senator Cardin said.
Throughout the day, the groups met with members of Congress to advocate for the bill and the economic benefits of establishing the parks in honor of Tubman’s legacy. One such group was scheduled to meet with Ohio U.S. Representative Betty Sutton, a member of the Congressional National Parks Caucus.
The Congresswoman’s staff met with the group in the halls of the Longworth House building to hear their case on why the bill should be passed. After a ten minute discussion, the staff member said he would pass the information along, suggested they speak with the ranking members of the Natural Resources Committee and said they believed Representative Sutton would be supportive of the bill.
The proposed national park would include 5,700 acres of land in Dorchester, Caroline and Talbot Counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Dorchester county officials, where the tourism center will be located, hope to attract tourists and bring jobs to their area, one of the counties hardest hit by the economic downturn. According to state officials, once the visitor’s center opens, the Maryland park visitation could grow to more than 200,000 annually, with a long-term economic impact of $20 million each year.