By Patricia Ford
I recently received a petition from the organization She the People calling for the replacement of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial with a statue of Harriet Tubman. Nothing would please me more than to see a monument on the National Mall that celebrates the great Harriet (Moses) Tubman. But why should her tribute be shrouded in an either/or swap with the third United States president?
But even more adamant, I ask why can’t we shine light on the Tubman memorials already standing?
Last summer I took the sojourn, about 90 miles east of DC to Cambridge, MD – the birthplace of Harriet Tubman where three memorials have been established in her name. I visited the Museum and Education Center as well as the Underground Railroad Visitor Center in nearby Church Creek, Maryland. Uplifted but also deeply saddened, the grounds surrounding the Tubman Memorial Garden were overgrown with weeds and sorely in need of maintenance.
The educational center, a community-based facility, featured a historical wall of portraits of Black women leaders in fields ranging from politics and journalism to medicine and music. But the centerpiece of that center is a powerful outdoors mural of Harriet with piercing eyes and outstretched hand. No matter where you stood to view it, her eyes and hands invite you to join her.
I left this grand tribute thinking we are better than this. We owe a great debt to Harriet’s fearless contribution to the freedom of our people, her commitment to this nation and her tenacious leadership during the suffrage movement. Let’s first, foremost and at least pay homage to Harriet Tubman by maintaining and supporting the existing historical structures that honor her greatness.
Until then, I will withhold support commissioning construction of a national monument of this courageous Black woman. Let’s first unerase what already has been created.