Suzanne Baird, the refuge manager at Blackwater, and Cherie Butler, the acting superintendent of the new national monument, tell us about the designation of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge that has been years in the making.
Harriet Tubman is revered as a national and international hero, a freedom seeker and leader of the Underground Railroad. Although Tubman is synonymous with the Underground Railroad in the minds of many, that alone is only a partial description of her many contributions. In the Civil War, she was a scout and a spy in support of Union forces, and served as a nurse on battlefields and at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Tubman led Colonel James Montgomery on a successful raid from Port Royal, South Carolina up the Combahee River in June 1863 and employed networks of informants to help Union forces. Following the war and continuing into her old age, she advocated and raised funds for women’s rights and founded one of the first homes for the elderly near her home in Auburn, New York. Although Harriet Tubman is known widely, no federal commemorative site had been established in her honor, despite the magnitude of her contributions.
Today, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge provides some of the best opportunities for people to be submersed in a landscape that would be representative of what Tubman would have experienced, and has helped to conserve the landscape from the early and mid-19th century. Many of the endeavors that Tubman was involved in as a slave are still used as management techniques on the refuge, including farming, timber management and muskrat harvesting.
The national monument will work to preserve and protect the objects of historic and scientific interests associated with Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad in Dorchester County, Maryland.
This is a great opportunity to work together to highlight an important part of the local history of the Underground Railroad and the American icon who was raised here. We will be able to work jointly focusing on conservation of the landscape and telling the story and engaging the visiting public in this historic landscape. The refuge will continue to conserve the diverse refuge habitats for migratory birds as well as the cultural history of the area.
The combined effort to preserve Tubman’s legacy has provided real life examples of how the interconnections among groups play an important role in telling America’s stories. Characterized by sustainability, connections, and commitment, the results are greater than the sum of the parts. These results cannot be achieved while working alone. Similar to the Underground Railroad, we’re working together for the common good. Harriet Tubman’s life symbolizes that story and thanks to our partnerships, her story will live on.
What can visitors look forward to at the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument?
The refuge and the national monument will continue to partner with the State of Maryland, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway and the Harriet Tubman Organization for programming possibilities.
Suzanne: The refuge is currently updating interpretive exhibits in the visitor center to incorporate Harriet Tubman into our stories.
Cherie: It is definitely a park site in progress and in the coming years, services will be added in cooperation with Maryland’s planned Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park. This national monument exemplifies a new model for park units. There is cooperative management from the beginning, and services rely on partners. We also communicate with our “cyber visitors” through social media. It’s our way of keeping people engaged especially during our early stages of planning.