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.

Juneteenth

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Juneteenth is a celebration of African-American Emancipation. It commemorates the day in 1865 in Texas that General Gordon Granger read the proclamation declaring that ALL SLAVES ARE FREE. While Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in his Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 with an effective date of January 1, 1863 that did not include border states not in rebellion or Texas where slaveowners moved to escape the fighting (unless these slaves escaped to non-slave states).

Now, they were all free with all the rights and privileges of all Americans (except of course for the reality of being Black in America in 1865). 

One year later, in 1866, Freedmen celebrated the first anniversary of Juneteenth in Texas.

Contending with whites only spaces that continued for too many years, many pooled their money to buy land of their own in order to congregate and celebrate. Emancipation Park in Houston, Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia, and Emancipation Park in Austin are three of these places.

While celebrated in several states as a recognized holiday or observance, the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation is seeking an official designation of Juneteenth as an observation in all 50 states through Congress.

What is Juneteenth by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Juneteenth Holiday (from Vox)

Slate (from 2015): The Black American Holiday Everyone Should Celebrate But Doesn’t

Juneteenth Honors March to Freedom (from 2008)

From the television series, Black-ish:

Clipped Wings

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​My passport expired on May 31st. My passport lapsed once before, but other than that very brief time, I have had a passport since approximately 1986. I remember checking it’s validity when President George H.W. Bush tapped Dan Quayle to be his Vice President. Remember potatoe? I thought we could not get anyone stupider to run our government, and then the Republicans in 2015 said, “Hold my beer!”

In looking back at my twenty-one year old self, a mere child compared to the knowledge I hold now, it was epically short-sighted and judgmental, especially towards VP Quayle. That’s not to say that I’m no longer judgmental. I do try to be a bit more even-handed in my judgment calls and personal opinions on people in the public sphere. In looking back on Dan Quayle, he wasn’t a terrible Vice President. He was non-descript. I was just out of college when he and Bush were elected, and despite my working for the federal government I really didn’t have a whole lot of attention spent towards the upper levels of the Executive Branch.

That continued for quite some time. Despite each of the following Presidents’ difficulty and shortcomings, I slept well. I trusted what was in their hearts in spite of the disapproval of some policies by them and the Congresses that opposed them.

Now, we have a malignant narcissist running our country into the ground. I’m not going to get into the legalities or the politics of impeachment or armchair psychological diagnosis of dementia or any other possible cognitive or personality disorder. We do know that anything can happen because of the President’s lack of knowledge on many issues and his pettiness and impulsiveness and I live each day in fear for myself, but moreso for my children.

However, other than the security of an escapist sense of protection; a shield against the unknown and the rising anxiety, not only in me, but in the country, the expiration of my passport is a cryptic feeling; not bittersweet, not unambiguous, a little sad, a little motivating to get it renewed, a little feeling of captivity; of being a prisoner in my own land. I’m stuck.

Now, in a country the size of the United States it’s not as though I’m trapped in a 10×10 cell or even a two acre plot of land. I have the entire expanse of the width of the North American continent, so there is definitely a bit of privilege slipping out into my bluster.

We’re planning a family vacation, and with one child already on his own, I’m not sure how many more of these will be available to us. We really love spending time with our kids, and I miss them when they’re off with their friends. 

One of the places on our list of possible destinations is Toronto, which is closer to us than many of our states. 

But… 

I need a passport to get there, to cross the border into Canada. It has never felt more like a foreign country than it does now. I traveled to Canada many, many times as a child and young adult. We had (and continue to have) family there; my grandfather and his family were from Toronto and I have many cousins still living there. For a time, I had considered moving there to go to college, but that didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. I certainly wouldn’t have needed a passport back then. Even though we are not planning on seeing family during this trip, Canada, and especially Toronto and Niagara Falls still feel like going home. While so many things change, the awe of being a tiny part of this foreign land is like breathing new air.

So here I sit, contemplating a haircut, a special outfit for my photo, and popping into the post office to get a renewal application, and then sending it in as soon as possible. I do know that whether or not I use my passport or if I just carry it in my purse, it is the freedom that it grants that lets my heart rest easy. And gives peace of mind. And perhaps, one day will lead to adventure again.