Harriet Tubman descendant Tina Wyatt was moved to tears by the surroundings of the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park Visitor Center in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge outside Cambridge Maryland.
“You have the tall grasses. The same grasses that they hid in during the daytime and that they slept in on their way to freedom,” Wyatt recalled. “The wanting to free was so great, that they were willing to go through the things that they went through – through the grasses, through the swamps, the snakes. Things that could kill them. But they’d rather be killed right there than stay enslaved,” Wyatt said as she choked back emotion.
Wyatt’s great, great, grandmother Ann Marie Stewart was an enslaved child when she became one of the 70 people guided to freedom by her aunt Harriet Tubman. Tubman made six heroic secret missions into Maryland to free slaves after gaining her own freedom by running away.
Many of the family members rescued by Tubman over the years settled in St. Catherine’s Ontario, before coming to Auburn in upstate New York after emancipation and the Civil War.
As a child, Wyatt spent summers in Auburn with an extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins all related to the original escaped slaves who settled here with Tubman.
Wyatt says her family remembers Tubman for her heroism, but also for her dedication to helping oppressed people well after the Underground Railroad period.
Tubman founded a home in Auburn to care for elderly and sick people without families. She was also active in the suffragette movement. Tubman died in 1913 at the age of 92.
“I think of her as a humanist,” Wyatt said. “She wanted to uplift other people and make life good for them.”
Tubman was intensely devoted to her extended family.
The new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center is built near the former plantation property where Tubman was born.
The center is a joint venture between the National Park Service and the State of Maryland. Visitors can use it as a jumping off point for a 125-mile driving tour of important Underground Railroad sites on Maryland’s Eastern Shore known as the Tubman Byway.
Maps, books and CD’s guide visitors on the journey.