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FunTimes Magazine

How Philadelphia is Honoring the Legacy of Harriet Tubman

Mar 18, 2022 12:00PM ● By Mac Johnson

“Freedom gives you choices, but education helps you make the right ones”.

The voice of Millicent Sparks, a Harriet Tubman living history interpreter echoed through a crowded chamber of Philadelphia’s City Hall. With Mayor Jim Kenney in attendance, dignitaries from around the city and beyond, as well as an eclectic group of clergy, community activists, press, and passerby gathered for a birthday party. A packed house of warm bodies, sandwiched together to celebrate the life of Harriet Tubman. 

(Image Credit: Mac Johnson)

200 years have passed since Tubman’s birth in Cambridge, Maryland. From a little Black girl born into the horrors of slavery in the 1820’s to the icon of American history we know her as today, Tubman is strength, perseverance, and courage personified. 

Every trek she conducted along the underground railroad was about more than a slave becoming free, it was about a child finding their mother, a family finding a home, and a lost soul connecting with its community. Freedom gave former slaves the opportunity to reconcile with the loss of their loved ones by receiving the opportunity to start anew. But often times, the reward for making it through hell and running away to freedom was the loss of everything you’ve ever known. 

Harriet Tubman’s resilience was shared among many of the slaves who took the path of the Underground Railroad from the deep south to cities like Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and beyond U.S. borders to Canada. Tubman’s legacy remains through the hundreds of slaves she freed and through her own children.

“That is what slavery has done to us,” said Professor Dale Green, a 7th generation descendant of Tubman. “Slavery was meant to separate us and strip us of our identity.”

Prof. Green teaches architecture to students at Morgan State University. He also takes great interest in researching historic preservation, documenting the origin story of former slaves, and connecting the dots to African Americans today. 

“Because of the lasting effects of slavery, two people from the same family could be working at the same place and not know they’re brothers,” said Green.

Through strenuous research, Prof Green discovered that one of his colleagues at Morgan State was a relative and fellow member of the Harriet Tubman lineage. Dr. Randy Rowel is a 6th generation descendant of Tubman. The two educators worked together for the better part of a decade without understanding the connection. Dr. Rowel says understanding where you came from is essential to knowing who you are.

 (Dr. Randy Rowel and Prof. Dale Green, Image Credit: Mac Johnson)

“Check your history because there has to be greatness in every generation,” said Dr. Rowel. “What we see sometimes today are the generations that did not connect with their past.”

Dr. Rowel also believes that slavery is responsible for wiping away occupations, specialties, and credentials obtained by our ancestors.

“Everyone should go back and we’ll find something unique,” said Dr. Rowel. “Some of us were building cities, advancing in carpentry. We haven’t gotten credit for it.”

To see the manifestation of Harriet Tubman’s trial and triumph is incredibly powerful. Perhaps the most inspirational sign of progress is that the Underground Railroad is still in full effect, it’s just taking a different form. 

“Education is the path from slavery to freedom,” said Millicent Sparks, her voice once again ringing through Philadelphia’s City Hall. “Education is the Underground Railroad, and you are all the conductors now.”

The celebration of Tubman’s life is just one of the month’s worth of events and ceremonies  organized by the city of Philadelphia to honor the woman known as “Black Moses”. Even now, guests can view a special exhibit inside City Hall called “Dreams of Freedom: The Threads That Hold Us Together”. The multi-media exhibit organized by Sankofa Artisans Guild features quilts, cloths, and other artifacts that spotlight Tubman’s heroism. That exhibit can be viewed through the end of March.

(Image Credit: Mac Johnson)

(Image Credit: Mac Johnson)

(Image Credit: Mac Johnson) 

 Mac Johnson is a Emmy nominated documentarian, award winning television producer and writer whose sole purpose is to provide a platform for underserved communities. He is a proud HBCU graduate, having studied communications at Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University. Mac is also an active member of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and looks for community outreach and volunteering opportunities in his spare time. He is a die hard Eagles fan, vegan food connoisseur and a lover of all things hip-hop, gospel and jazz.

You can connect with him on social media:
Twitter: @mac___78
Instagram: @mac___78
email: [email protected]

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