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03/26/2013

Iconic: Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument

Harriet_Tubman_by_Squyer,_NPGIn March, we celebrate Women's History Month to recognize women who have changed the world. Yesterday, 100 years after her death, President Obama designated approximately 11,750 acres of Maryland as the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, protecting a historic American landmark and celebrating an iconic woman who risked her life to fight for a more just society.

Only seven sites in our National Park System were established to commemorate some aspect of women's history. The designation of the Harriet Tubman National Monument is a step in the right direction -- and now, as we look toward the 2016 centennial celebration of the National Park Service, it's important to continue diversifying our national parks to more fully reflect America's shared heritage and cultural diversity. Tubman's fearless leadership as conductor on the Underground Railroad shatters the myth that women and enslaved people of the antebellum period were powerless.

Along with Tubman's birthplace and childhood home, the Jacob Jackson home site and the Brodess Farm, the new monument includes acres of wild land within the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Located on the eastern shore of Maryland, this wildlife refuge has the largest breeding population of bald eagles on the East Coast, north of Florida. It is historically significant because it commemorates sites associated with Tubman's early life as an enslaved woman, including a network of homes and farms, waterways and woods where Tubman and her family lived and worked from the 1820s to the 1840s. It was Tubman's adept understanding of this geography that helped her to escape slavery and ultimately return to Maryland to successfully liberate enslaved relatives and friends.

Communities along Maryland's Eastern Shore have supported the establishment of a national park site dedicated to Harriet Tubman for more than a decade. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski have been vocal supporters. Additionally, departing Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's leadership and vision was critical in obtaining permanent protection for these lands. This monument designation will be a lasting part of his legacy.

Harriet Tubman's bold leadership helped change the world. Honoring her through the designation of a national monument is critical for more fully recognizing the contributions of women and African Americans, and we applaud Secretary Salazar and President Obama for establishing a new national treasure that pays tribute to America's diverse history.

As this designation shows, many places of both historic and natural importance still lack needed protections. We look forward to seeing the president use his authority to safeguard more special places as national monuments and to build his lands legacy over the next four years.

--Lauren Randall, Sierra Club Media Team

 


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