Inspire. August.

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August’s inspiration posts were delayed by the entire month, but I am determined that this post tonight at the latest. It is the last day of August and there is still inspiration to be had.

August began with my being sick, some days quite ill, and I went to the Department of Health to take a covid test, which fortunately came back negative.

We’re still receiving updates from my children’s school and they are almost ready to return; one virtually and one in an in-person hybrid model.

We also were able to take a much needed family vacation, which we understand is a privilege in these uncertain times. I credit that to many things, not the least of which is the seriousness that New York State took in combatting the coronavirus. We remained in New York, and that gave us the ability to travel and to do so without a fourteen day quarantine anywhere else we may have gone. It wasn’t our original plan, but we were all together and we had a great week.

I mention this because the one thing I want to share with you for the August inspire post is a museum that we visited that I would encourage everyone to visit. I will write more about it in later days, but here is a small glimpse:

The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is located at 825 West Depot Avenue West in Niagara Falls, New York. It has only been open for about two years, and was reopened on July 18th after Covid closures.

It is very reasonably priced: $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors (62+), $6 for children 6-12, and Free for children 5 and under.

There is limited parking shared with the Amtrak station and it is on the Discover Niagara Shuttle, a free service in the city of Niagara Falls that operates May through October. They’ve recently reopened after Covid closures.

The Heritage Center is a beautiful balance of the heartbreak of slavery and escape from bondage and the people who helped them flee. It is at once inspiring and emotional. In one instant, a story caused me to weep while others made me feel joy at their new lives in Canada.

It is a small venue, but well worth the time. I would return again to enjoy the few things that were not available due to covid restrictions.

Inside the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. (c)2020
We are *this* close to freedom.
Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. (c)2020

Travel – Harriet Tubman – William Seward Statue, Schenectady, NY

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Statue of Harriet Tubman and William Seward installed at the Schenectady (New York) Public Library. Dedication May 17, 2019. (c)2019

Attending the dedication and unveiling of this new statue was an incredibly moving and surprisingly learning experience. I thought I knew who Harriet Tubman was and her place in history, but in listening to the speakers, the experts in African-American history and the history of Harriet Tubman in particular, I was more than a little surprised at how insufficient my knowledge of Harriet Tubman was. My knowledge was merely on the periphery, and lacked a more indepth substance of her life and who she really was. I was pleased to have had the opportunity to impart this new found information on someone at the statue the following day.
Unless we’ve taken electives in high school or college that focus on the African-American experience, much of this substance is missing. I knew the basics. My daughter is currently studying for her seventh grade finals which include the Civil War, and I don’t think that Harriet Tubman is included much beyond those bare facts that I remembered. Her knowledge (and mine prior to this event) could fit into a thimble.

This would be a travesty in any study on the plight of the slaves, but it is even more so in my home state of New York, where Harriet Tubman eventually made her home.

Put simply, her life was a miracle. She was born on a Maryland plantation where her parents were slaves and where she was forced to work as well as being loaned out. She was named Araminta and called Minty. He didn’t change her name to Harriet until later on in her life, naming herself after her mother.

She was hit on the head by a large object by a slave owner in town. She was unconscious and bleeding, and it is believed that she sustained a concussion. From that time on, she would involuntarily fall asleep at all sorts of unpredictable times. She also had dreams and visions that she took as signs from G-d, calling them revelations. He guided her and she her people to the promised land of the North. She was often referred to as Moses because of her embracing of the Bible’s Exodus story.

Timeline of Harriet Tubman

She was illiterate, and never learned to read or write. I think that her statute outside a public library is such a testament to how far you can come and who you can be when you use whatever skills you have.

She made thirteen trips back and forth to get slaves north, her final rescue in 1860. Because of the Fugitive Slave Act, she brought the slaves in her charge including her parents further north to Canada, to St. Catherine’s where they lived for a time but found it too cold.

One of the things I didn’t know was her role in the Civil War after her time with the Underground Railroad. She was a cook, a nurse, scout and a spy. She carried a pistol. She guided a raid that liberated seven hundred slaves at Combahee Ferry, and that was after helping John Brown plan and recruit for his Harpers Ferry raid. Despite her service for the Union Army, she didn’t receive a government pension until 1899. She was also involved in women’s suffrage with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

She was unstoppable.

Harriet Tubman Historical Society

Harriet Tubman in Auburn, New York, 1911. Public Domain. (c)2019

William Seward, in addition to buying Alaska, was the governor of New York and the Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln. On the night of Lincoln’s assassination, he was also attacked as part of the same plot, and stabbed several times, but survived the attempted assassination and brutal assault.
He was an early abolitionist and provided monies for their works including the Stephen and Harriet Myers home in Albany, NY.

He and Harriet Tubman became close friends. Seward sold Harriet land in Auburn, New York where she settled and moved her parents there when it was relatively safe and St. Catherine’s became too cold. I’m not sure they found the Upstate New York climate much warmer than southern Canada. The land she owned became a refuge for her family and other former slaves. She sold some of it for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and founded a home for the aged for African-Americans. She lived there until her death in 1913. She was buried in Auburn with semi-military honors. 

She and Seward had become so close that she trusted he and his family to care for her niece while she continued her work as conductor on the Underground Railroad and her Union Army service, although the girl may have actually been Harriet’s daughter.

It was this friendship that formed the inspiration for the statue at the Schenectady Public Library.

Video of the Dedication

L-R, Top to Bottom: 1/2. Two views of Tubman-Seward Statue, 3. The three men who worked tirelessly to make this project happen, 4. Rev. Paul G. Carter, former pastor at the AME Zion Church in Auburn, NY, 5. Rev. Paul G. Carter, his wife and the sculptor with the statue, 6. The plaque on the statue, 7. Historian Marsha Mortimore with the statue.