Editor's note: Updates with establishment of the site, comments, and more background.
At a ceremony Tuesday morning, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell signed a memorandum formally establishing Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, New York, as the 414th unit of the National Park System.
The new park commemorates the work of Harriet Tubman, the fearless Underground Railroad conductor, especially focusing on her later years in life when she was an active proponent of women’s suffrage and other causes. The park is located at the site where Tubman lived and worshipped, caring for family members and other formerly enslaved people seeking safe haven in the North. The National Park Service will work in partnership with Harriet Tubman Home Inc. and the AME Zion Church to operate the park.
“It is our great privilege to share in the stewardship of two national historical parks devoted to commemorating the life and work of Harriet Tubman,” Secretary Jewell said in a release. “These two parks preserve and showcase a more complete history of one of America’s pivotal humanitarians who, at great personal risk, did so much to secure the freedom of hundreds of formerly enslaved people. Her selfless commitment to a more perfect union is testament that one determined person – no matter her station in life or the odds against her – can make a tremendous difference.”
Congress authorized the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park on December 19, 2014, as part of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. The park joins Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Maryland as a sister national park commemorating this remarkable figure in American history.
The National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, was instrumental in the effort to establish the new park. Through a grant to the National Park Service, the foundation provided the funds necessary to acquire the Parker Street property, which will be managed and operated by the National Park Service. The property is home to the Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church and rectory.
The historic church, a modest, two-story, frame structure constructed in 1891, is directly associated with Tubman, her family, many of her supporters, and the African American community of the time. The two-story rectory is adjacent to the church, and both structures are located across the street from the Fort Hill Cemetery, the location of Tubman’s grave.
The church, rectory, and other structures within the boundary of Harriet Tubman National Historical Park are largely intact from the time Tubman lived and worked in Auburn. They provide a strong physical basis for telling the story of Tubman’s years following the Civil War when she was active in the women’s suffrage movement, in the AME Zion Church, and in the establishment of a home for elderly, indigent African Americans.
“The establishment of this park symbolizes our country honoring Harriet Tubman for her entire life of service as a soldier for God and country,” said Bishop Dennis Proctor, chairman of Harriet Tubman Home Inc. and presiding prelate of the North Eastern District, AME Zion Church. “As a partnership park, it represents the best of the National Park Service to ensure the duality of its resiliency and the goal of diversity. For the Harriet Tubman Home and her beloved AME Zion Church, the park ensures our ability to continue to lift up more dynamically Tubman's core values of freedom, family, faith, community, justice, self-determination, and equality. Lastly, the park designation will spur economic engines of progress for Central New York.”