Harriet Tubman’s Eastern Shore Legacy

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Photos and text by Amy Davis

The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center opens to the public this weekend in Church Creek. It is near the birthplace of the heroic emancipated slave who led more than 70 others to freedom. The narrative of Tubman’s remarkable life extends beyond the 17-acre park, adjacent to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County. Her daring journeys as the Underground Railroad’s most famous conductor can be explored via a driving tour along the byways that connect to the woods and waterways Tubman skillfully navigated under cover of darkness as she led slaves to freedom (harriettubmanbyway.org).

Despite modern intrusions, the Eastern shore landscape is surprisingly unchanged from Tubman’s time. Her world can be glimpsed within the remaining tidal marshes, woodlands and farms that span the flat terrain, and from the eagles and geese that still soar overhead. The Choptank River still defines Caroline and Dorchester Counties as it flows from Delaware to the Chesapeake Bay.

The painful legacy of slavery and the Civil War is also evident along these byways where a confederate flag flutters next to the Stars and Stripes on Route 313. A short stroll from the Long Wharf in Cambridge, a site where slaves were once traded, leads to a notice from the National Human Trafficking hotline affixed to the bathroom stalls at the Dorchester County Visitor Center. According to the hotline’s website, 158 cases of human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery, were reported in Maryland last year. The new park honoring Harriet Tubman is long overdue, but nonetheless a timely tribute to Tubman’s unflinching resistance and courage.