The national news media proudly reported that the Harriet Tubman home in upstate New York was officially designated as a national park on January 10, 2017. We learned of the glorious ceremony in Washington, D.C. attended by Sally Jewel, U.S. Interior Secretary, and an entire congressional delegation to commemorate the event. Many of you may even recall the historical significance of Tubman who, as an early abolitionist and feminist, courageously met the challenge of spiriting countless numbers of runaway slaves to freedom prior to the Emancipation Proclamation through a network of abolitionist safe houses called the Underground Railroad, an extraordinarily perilous task for a black woman during slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was not delivered by Abraham Lincoln until January 1, 1863, a spectacular period of one hundred fifty-four years prior to the date the federal government saw fit to acknowledge the historical significance of the Tubman home. Even more spectacular are the media reports that uniformly fail to mention the delay or how the home was preserved during the interim period.
While the federal government suffered a case of moral myopia, the Tubman home was preserved by the local black community of conscience. The effort was seriously underfunded and largely neglected. That it has taken until 2017 to confer national park status on this site is a fact that speaks for itself about the condition of the soul of the nation. Equally impoverished is the editorial decision to omit any reference to it, ignoring the huge gap of time between the emancipation and the date national park status was conferred as though it occurred in a vacuum or time warp, ignoring the significance of the gap and ignoring how the community struggled to preserve the site on its own initiative across the intervening generations. I would argue the omission of this relevant factual detail marginalizes the importance of the occasion, which is a form of bias. It also shows a level of lingering moral poverty that is at least vaguely reminiscent of the original condition of slavery Tubman railed against. Oh, and another thing, Tubman also owned the house next door, and it is presently owned by a white family. Tubman’s home NBC News reports