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Harriet Tubman State Park Opens On Maryland's Eastern Shore


Harriet Tubman's name graces schools, roads, apartment buildings and medical centers. Now she can add a state park to that list. The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park opened this weekend on Maryland's Eastern Shore. NPR's Parth Shah paid it a visit.

PARTH SHAH, BYLINE: Off the beaten path, five miles past timber fields and the occasional farmhouse, the Harriet Tubman Visitor Center pops up out of nowhere.

ANGELA CRENSHAW: We are walking in Tubman's footsteps here.

SHAH: Angela Crenshaw, assistant manager of the new state park, says while the location is rural, it was placed here for a very specific reason.

CRENSHAW: She was born not three miles west of here, so chances are she walked through this area.

SHAH: Tubman was born into slavery, the middle child of her parents' nine children. At the age of 6, she was taken from her family and put to work, where she was regularly abused. In her late 20s, she escaped and traveled north to Philadelphia. Tubman returned into slave territory many times after that, risking her life to bring other slaves to freedom.

CRENSHAW: She learned how to forage for food, how to walk without making very much noise, and how to really survive in the woods alone at night. She was the ultimate outdoors woman. And she started here.

SHAH: The land of the 17-acre state park has remained relatively unchanged in the 200 years since Tubman lived here. Historian Kate Clifford Larson, who helped plan the park, says while Tubman is known for her work as an abolitionist, the story of her early years isn't as well-known.

KATE CLIFFORD LARSON: She didn't just appear as a grown-up with all these great skills and abilities.

SHAH: The exhibit runs chronologically, taking visitors through her childhood to her teenage years, when an overseer threw a heavy weight at her head, which left her with seizures for the rest of her life. The visitor center was overflowing with tourists on its opening weekend, with a dozen standing in the blustery weather outside waiting to get in.

MILLICENT SPARKS: This is a highlight in terms of my characterization of her, being here.

SHAH: Millicent Sparks visited from Philadelphia. She didn't like learning about slavery when she was in school.

SPARKS: I used to hang my head when they talked about slavery. But now it is empowering to know, like, what Harriet Tubman did. She had nothing, and look what she achieved.

SHAH: One of the last things visitors see in the exhibit is a placard featuring a $20 bill with a blank portrait in the middle of it. Harriet Tubman will fill that space on the updated bill in 2020. Parth Shah, NPR News, Church Creek, Md. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.