Now I’ve been free, I know what a dreadful condition slavery is. I have seen hundreds of escaped slaves, but I never saw one who was willing to go back and be a slave. — Harriett Tubman
On a sunny and crisp Saturday morning, nearly 200 African-American history enthusiasts escaped the hustle and bustle of life in the D.C. area and boarded buses from THEARC West in Southeast, heading north to Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
They were on a journey to learn about the life of Harriett Ross Tubman and to pay homage to her success as conductor of the Underground Railroad.
For the families on the 70-mile bus ride to Tubman’s birthplace and where she spent many years enslaved on the Brodas plantation, the trip was a far cry from Tubman’s journey to freedom over a century ago. They were participants of the eighth annual Washington Informer African American Heritage Tour (AAHT), and this trip to the Harriett Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center was one of discovery and reflection.
For Tubman, born into slavery in 1820, the land near Church Creek represented inhumanity and cruelty. It was a place to escape from to find freedom up North.
“We’re with a lot of people interested in Harriet Tubman who have known her name for years,” said Ron Burke, The Informer’s marketing director. “This tour offers a newfound appreciation for what she did to free so many people and how she accomplished it nearly by herself. She never lost a passenger.”
The tour is the brainchild of Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, who said the annual event confirmed her belief that African Americans want to know more about their history.
Past tours include such places as Alexandria, Annapolis, Baltimore, the historic black townships of Prince George’s County and sites in D.C. featuring Frederick Douglass, Blacks in the Civil War and the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture.
“We are thrilled to have an average of 200 to 300 supporters of the tour that sign up every year,” Barnes said. “It has been extremely gratifying to see so many families including small children and teens, as well as church groups that bring Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops along to learn about their history and culture.”
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center is located in Church Creek, Maryland. Its 17 acres are managed through a partnership between Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the National Park Service who have welcomed more than 105,000 visitors since the park officially opened in March 2017.
“One of the most common questions I’m asked is, ‘Why did you drag me here [to learn about Harriet Tubman]?’” said National Park Service Ranger and Assistant Manager Angela Crenshaw. “I tell them, ‘This is Tubman Country. She had Dorchester County mud underneath her toenails, so you have to come here to understand this landscape and this place before you can understand her.’”
This year’s tour was coordinated by Lou Fields, president of BBX Tours and Black Dollar Exchange and the host of internet-based BDX Live Talk Show.
Fields, a walking encyclopedia of Black history in Maryland, has also published a book titled “Maryland Black Facts.”
Sponsors included Pepco, Washington Gas, Safeway Foundation, Capital Entertainment Services, THEARC and Bank of America.
Tracye Funn, Washington Gas manager of corporate giving, joined the tour again this year and said she learned the importance of African-American history from her parents, who were both schoolteachers in Alexandria, Virginia.
Fields presented Funn with a copy of his book, which featured her relative, a champion of diversity in economic development and tourism in the state of Maryland.
Ibrahim Mumin, a regular on the AAHT, noted Harriet Tubman “is an outstanding figure in African American history.”
“Over the years, we have not paid tribute to the women who were trailblazers in the struggle,” Mumin said. “As an African-American man, I want to cure that and to educate myself so that I can educate my family about the history women. The generation behind us must see what happened so that it will not able happen again.”