Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Experience

Published 2:06 pm Wednesday, July 17, 2019

As we reach out to learn and connect to other communities around our shared Underground Railroad history, we recently had the chance to make some great connections at the 10th Annual Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Conference in Maryland.

It all started with a Facebook picture of a little girl reaching out to touch a mural which featured a life-like image of Harriet Tubman—an image created by artist, Michael Rosato. Because I follow a number of Underground Railroad related pages— I was first struck by this image on my Facebook newsfeed. The following morning, I was surprised to see the same picture on the Today Show. This moving image had gone viral.

What I realized as I sought to find out more about the mural, was that the small town of Cambridge (about six hours away) was preparing to host their 10th Annual Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad convening in less than two weeks.

The timing couldn’t have been better. With support from our recent Ribbon of Hope grant from the NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation, we are working to learn as much as we can about “all things Underground Railroad.” After talking to some of the event organizers, we realized that this would be a great chance to learn and to share about our own newly developing Roanoke River Underground Railroad Trail.

And so, we packed our things and headed north to be among the 75 or so folks who gathered to celebrate Harriet Tubman’s legacy and to learn more about the Underground Railroad.

It was such a fruitful trip! While we rode, we discussed the on-going development of our Roanoke River Underground Railroad Trail. Once we all arrived, we not only got to see the mural that caused all the excitement—we also got to meet the artist and his charming wife.

Other highlights included: visiting the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park; hearing a host of powerful presentations; hearing some Underground Railroad themed music; meeting Harriet Tubman’s great, great, great niece; having a delicious dinner hosted by a local church; meeting both Maryland and National Park Underground Railroad staffers; and getting to share info about our own Roanoke River Underground Railroad Trail.

On our return trip, we processed all we had witnessed and how we could see our small towns along the Roanoke developing in similar ways.

We could commission murals that could draw visitors to our region. We certainly have talented artists that could do this kind of work. We also have musicians that could perform and produce music reminiscent of this history.

We could create a place where people could come to learn more about this Roanoke River history. In fact, that is the plan for the future Rosenwald River Center that we are currently engaged in renovating.

We could work with a host of partners to create activities and events where both locals and visitors could learn more about our rich river history. We already have plans to work with communities throughout our region to do just that.

Roanoke River Partners is currently collaborating with a host of regional partners to conduct a series of community events featuring our Underground Railroad history.

Don’t miss this opportunity for your community to work with us on one of these future events. Please contact me through the info below to learn more. We’d love to hear from you!

Carol Jones Shields is the Executive Director of Roanoke River Partners, Inc. You can contact her at (252) 798-3920 or director@roanokeriverpartners.org. You can learn more about Roanoke River Partners at www.roanokeriverpartners.org.