Thursday, October 24, 2019

Harriet Tubman: In This 400th Year of Slave Ships Arriving in America -Her Revival Demonstrates Human Dignity Is Still Under Siege

Cambridge, Maryland,  The Tubman Mural
by Michael Rosato
As we are in the mist of the 400th year of the first African slaves (who were initially indentured servants) landing in Jamestown, Virginia, the revival and remembrance of Harriet Tubman's life and her contributions as one of America's leading anti-slavery activists and abolitionists has come full circle. Tubman, also a staunch feminist, envisioned and guided so many through her famed  Underground Railroad, helping many slaves -- including members of her family --  escape to freedom in Northern states. Her life story remains an example to us of the importance of respecting human life, human rights, human dignity, and social justice -- all fundamentals of humankind -- which unfortunately are under attack across the world today. 

Mayor Jackson-Stanley, Sanders 
Cambridge Mayor Jackson-Stanley
In addition to the film about her life, which won the this year's star studded Toronto Film Festival, being part of the symbols of revival,  Tubman's county of birth Dorchester, Maryland, on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay and the city of Cambridge, unveiled a life size mural of the Underground Railroad leader (see above) near the museum that also bears her name. The Tubman Mural unveiling was proceeded by a procession of unity, prayers, songs (video below), traditional African cultural rituals, libations, and the release of a commemorative coin (see below) -- all part of a day of celebration organized by key partners which included the city's public and civic leaders, Cambridge's dynamic mayor, Victoria Jackson-Stanley, the Constituency for Africa (CFA) President and Chairwoman, Mel Foote and Jeannine Scott, the Harriet Tubman Museum founders, Tubman Mural artist Michael Rosato, and government representatives of the State of Maryland and Dorchester County. One of the event's keynote speakers was Julius Garvey, the son of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr.,who in 1914 began the "Back-to-Africa" and "Africa Diaspora" and "Pan-Africa" movements. 
Julius Garvey, son of Marcus Garvey
Foote, Garvey, Sanders, Togo Amb.
What the Tubman Mural Event should do -- as well as all the events recognizing the 400th year of Africans arriving in the United States, including the acclaimed New York Times 1619 Project (if you haven't read or listen to the podcasts do so) -- is remind us all of both the power of survival, and determination to fight against the "wrongs," committed against humankind perpetrated at anytime, by anyone, anywhere in the world.  The strength of Tubman, which I saw reflected in the many attendees, and civic and public leaders during this Cambridge, Maryland, celebration of her life, further underscores just how much we still need to do, how much history has passed since 1619, but also how much it has not in so many ways. 

We still have a long way to go to mutually understand, and respect each other, but more importantly what these full circle moments and revival on appreciating Tubman's life, strength and courage mean is that many recognize:

-- That the work of being better people to each other is far from done;

-- That America needs to be regularly reminded of the important contributions that the first generations of Africans made to the Americas, and that all their future descendants -- African Americans -- were critical then as well as now in making America what it is today; 

-- That neither the history nor the contributions of African Americans to the United States should never be forgotten; and

-- That the Africa Diaspora -- defining Diaspora with a big "D" -- to be inclusive of African nationals past and present, African American, and African immigrants to the United States, have shared ties, shared histories, and will always remain connected as a result.                                                                        
The revival of Harriet Tubman's legacy and seminal tomes like the 1619 Project have helped return these critical issues to the front burner. Let's hope, however, that in this 400th year, and the hard years traveled from 1619-2019, that we can do better going forward to stem the current turn in certain places in the world that doesn't put our humanity and protecting human and civil rights first above all else.                                                

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