MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We're going to turn now from one of the country's most famous national parks, to a national park that doesn't yet exist. This weekend marks a century since the death of Harriet Tubman. For the first 30 years of her life, the underground railroad conductor lived as a slave on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It's been more than a decade since efforts began to establish a national historic park in her honor and while that legislation has stalled in Congress, a new state park is breaking ground. Jacob Fenston paid a visit to Tubman's hometown in Dorchester County to check out the site of the soon-to-be park.
MR. JACOB FENSTON
A lot has changed since the 1820s when Harriet Tubman was growing up in Dorchester County. But many families here have ties that go back and back and back.
MR. DONALD PINDER
My father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were farmers in the Dorchester County area.
Donald Pinder is president of the Harriet Tubman Organization, which runs a small museum in Cambridge. He's traced his local roots all the way back to the early-and-mid-1800s and found free ancestors, as well as enslaved, living just a couple of miles from Harriet Tubman. They may even have crossed paths.
A lot of people would have done the same thing that Harriet Tubman done. But Harriet, she repeated this. Most people would have escaped, resettled their lives and moved on.
MS. CLARA SMALL
We still don't know exactly how many times she came back to this area. But we do know that she kept coming and got family members and friends, anyone who was willing.
Clara Small teaches African American history at Salisbury University. She says Tubman returned to Maryland between 13 and 19 times, helping hundreds escape to freedom.
Harriet is one of my favorite individuals. I call her my personal she-ro. She's so much a part of what I study and she's so much a part of this area, that to me she's still alive.
Small says even though Harriet Tubman is a household name, her contributions have yet to be properly recognized. But since at least the mid-90s, locals on the Eastern Shore have been lobbying for broader official recognition. In the year 2000, the National Park Service started studying the potential for a park in Tubman's honor. Mike Litterst, with the National Park Service, says the agency recommended creating new parks in both Maryland and in Auburn, New York, where Tubman lived later in life.
MR. MIKE LITTERST
So there has been legislation before Congress in the 111th and the 112th Congresses. National Park Service testified in support of those bills both times. Congress failed to act both of those times.
U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, along with the state's other senator, Ben Cardin, reintroduced the legislation earlier this year.
MS. BARBARA MIKULSKI
If we have a park to birds and bees, we ought to have a park to Harriet Tubman.
Supporters of the national park plan were hoping it would be in the works by this weekend, in time for centennial celebrations. But it's not, so state officials have decided to go it alone for the time being. Glenn Carowan is with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
MR. GLENN CAROWAN
Yeah, the state park decided to move ahead. We're still unsure if the National Historic Parks are going to become reality or not.
I met Carowan at the future site of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor's Center.
The great thing about this, is that the area really hasn't changed that much. When you drive around Dorchester County, the landscapes are almost identical, with the exception of the paved highways and the electric lines and that sort of thing, that Harriet Tubman would have seen during her time here.
State officials will break ground on the visitor's center this weekend. Carowan says it's expected to open in January 2015 and could see as many as 100,000 visitors a year. The county already experiences some amount of Tubman tourism. There's a driving tour, part of which I went on with county tourism director, Amanda Fenstermaker.
MS. AMANDA FENSTERMAKER
There are 22 sites that are going to be officially marked.
And there's a new audio tour.
And there are local tour guides, like Susan Meredith, who makes a living offering historical Harriet Tubman tours by bike or kayak.
MS. SUSAN MEREDITH
The farm that she was born on is right down the road, within less than a half a mile. It has a marker there.
Meredith and her husband own a tiny general store here that they've turned into a museum.
America is a very young country. We're very, I think, pretty close to the people that were history makers here.
But, as a nation, we haven't memorialized our history equally. Supporters of a Tubman National park point out that relatively few monuments are currently dedicated to anyone other than white men. Mike Litterst, with the National Park Service, says that's something the Obama Administration is trying to change.
There are approximately 80,000 properties on the National Register of Historic Places, which is administered by the National Park Service. And a very, very small percent, less than 10 percent, of those are dedicated to minorities or to women.
While Congress may never get around to dedicating a park in Tubman's honor, there is another possible route, President Obama could create one by presidential proclamation. That's how the most recent National Park was born, when Obama established the Cesar Chavez National Monument in California last October. I’m Jacob Fenston.
To see pictures of the new park site and to find out how you can take your own tour of the Underground Railroad visit our website, metroconnection.org.
Time for a break, but when we get back Obamacare 101.
MS. MILA HOFFMAN
Something of this magnitude has never been done before.
We'll get the lowdown on how The Affordable Care Act is likely to affect D.C., Maryland and Virginia. That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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