On the 97th anniversary of Harriet Tubman’s death, the Smithsonian Institution received a gift of 39 artifacts that once belonged to the extraordinary woman who transcended racial and gender boundaries to become an American hero.
The collection was a gift to the Smithsonian Institution from Charles L. Blockson, a writer, historian and former board member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania whose ancestors owed their newfound liberty to Tubman’s fearlessness as an Underground Railroad operator, abolitionist, Civil War spy and nurse, and suffragist.
Tubman’s personal book of hymns is not just a mere object, but a glimpse into this physically small womans personal faith. Her favorite hymns are indicated by the book’s use – when the book is gently opened, the pages fall open to the most frequently used pages of the 112-page book.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, gained international acclaimas a conductor on the Underground Railroad after escaping the bonds of slavery herself as a young woman in the early 1800s.
After escaping from enslavement in 1849, Tubman led countless slaves out of the South into free territories and to cross the border into Canada. One of the country’s most courageous abolitionists, she enjoyed the respect of leaders from Frederick Douglass to Susan B. Anthony.
During the Civil War she served as a spy, a nurse and a cook for Union forces and, in 1863, she helped free more than 700 African Americans during John Brown’s raid– a feat that earned her the nickname “General Tubman.”
Yet even on her deathbed, in 1913, after her lifetime of self-sacrifice, Tubman continued to pledge her service to others, and her last words were: “I go away to prepare a place for you.”
“There is something both humbling and sacred found in the personal items of such an iconic person,” said Lonnie Bunch, NMAAHC’s director. “It is an honor to be able to show the private side of a very public person, a woman whose very work for many years put her in service to countless others.”
The National Museum of African American History and Culture was created in 2003 by an Act of Congress; therefore, the new site is found between the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The new museum will be the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture. It is slated as completed in 2015.