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Picture courtesy of Cayuga Museum
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Harriet Tubman
"The Conductor"
By Carl A. Pierce
(click picture to enlarge)





Booker T. Washington Characterizes Her as a Model for Her Race—Tells of Progress of Negroes in Fifty Years of Freedom and Predicts Bright and Happy Future for Them.         

     Glorifying the life of Harriet Tubman, characterizing her courage, constancy and wisdom as models for the races of the world, extolling the negro race for the great progress it has made along all lines in fifty years of freedom in this country and predicting for it a bright and happy future.  Dr. Booker T. Washington, president of Tuskegee Institute of Alabama, delivered a splendid oration at the Auditorium last night in connection with the unveiling of the tablet, the gift of the citizens of this city, in memory of the former slave and later the “Moses of her people,” Harriet Tubman Davis. The famous educator’s address was but one of the features of the unveiling ceremony, which was notable from the commemoration side, the participation in and the attendance at the exercises.

       The spacious lower floor of the theater was well filled and all the boxes were occupied when the curtain arose. Upon the stage were the speakers, the members of the Auburn Festival Chorus, an orchestra and other participants and guests. In one box was a group of Civil War veterans; in another a party of prominent Auburn women; in a front seat in one of the lower boxes sat Emily Howland of Sherwood, the philanthropic friend of the negro race to whom a tribute was paid by Doctor Washington in his address.  Delegations representing various negro societies occupied other boxes.

     Olmstead’s Orchestra played the Adelle selections as the curtain rose. Next was a solo, with chorus accompaniment by the Festival Chorus and the audience, by Miss Lena J. Broogs of this city.  The stirring refrain “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was the song.  After the singing came prayer, spoken by Rev. John Quincy Adams of the seminary.  The Festival Chorus then sang the beautiful hymn, “ Jerusalem, the Golden.”  With a brief speech, Former Mayor E. Clarence Aiken formally presented the tablet. 

Presentation of Tablet

     Few memorials have been erected in this land to women,” said Mr. Aiken, “and few to negroes.  None has been erected to one who was at once a woman, a negro and a former slave. Harriet Tubman had the courage of a man. She was wise and unselfish.”

     He touched on the great question of slavery and its final settlement and paid high tribute to the woman who worked so nobly for the slaves and who led so many from bondage to freedom. He extolled Harriet Tubman as a true heroine and as a patriot citizen of whom Auburn would always be proud. It was highly fitting that the tablet should be given in her memory, he said, and he took pride and pleasure in having the honor of presenting the memorial tablet to the city. 

Grandniece of Harriet Tubman Unveils Memorial 

     Then came the actual unveiling. Miss Alice H. Lucas of this city, a grandniece of Harriet Tubman, arose and pulled aside the American flag that had draped the tablet, set for the occasion in a huge shell of papier mache. The theater lights were turned out and the tablet was illuminated by a frame of incandescents. There was silence for a few moments before the house lights came on again.

     The speech of acceptance was made by Mayor Charles W. Brister in behalf of the City of Auburn.  Mayor Brister, too, paid tribute to the great character whose life the tablet commemorated and pointed to the lessons that all might learn from her career. He spoke as follows:

     “By the occasional illuminating flashes of greatness originating from unexpected and oftentimes obscure sources are we continually reminded that in the divine conception of the universe provisions was made for the proper guidance of the human race.

     “History teaches us that the attribute of courage and a conviction of duty toward humanity have very little regard for  race, creed or color. That great crises always develop great leaders to conduct the people through the Red Sea of their difficulties.

     “In accepting this tablet today the City of Auburn recognizes the merit of her to whose memory it is dedicated. In accepting this tablet we reaffirm in a public way our belief that in the fullness of time character shall be measured by its true standard irrespective of its origin or its surroundings.

     “Indolent luxury and irresponsibility are not character builders; only by conflict with difficulties can be shown the metal of which mankind is made.

     “Having in mind a purpose which carries with it a consciousness and a conviction of right develops as element of character which must be the measure of the man.

     “Measured by such a standard, the woman whose memory is today honored and perpetuated must be ranked with the great characters of history. 

Gave Life to Her Race 

     “Being convinced of a great wrong to her people, and having first learned from experience a possible way to overcome in a measure the effect of that wrong, Harriet Tubman Davis devoted her life to the relief of her race. No matter what discomfort or privation were incident to her work, it still went on. No matter what judicial decisions were rendered against her, nor what rewards were offered for her apprehension, the work went on. No matter if her self achieved freedom were in jeopardy or her life were at stake, still the work went on.

     “The spirit of devotion to her race, the skill displayed in carrying out her purpose and the success achieved won for not only the admiration of the great men of her own time, but a not inconspicuous place in the hall of fame.

     “Not because the subject of this memorial was a woman, nor because she was black, is this tribute tendered, but rather to commemorate the inherent greatness of her character.

     “In recognition of her unselfish devotion to the cause of humanity does the City of Auburn accept this tablet dedicated to her memory.

     “Born as she was in the obscurity of slavery and bound by its shackles, the memory of this woman should be an object of reverence to every member of her race, and the example of her achievement an inspiration to every member of our great nation.”

     When the mayor had concluded, “To Thee O Country” was sung by the Festival Chorus.  An entertainment and colorful sketch of the life of Harriet Tubman was read by Mrs. Mary B. Talbert of Buffalo, president of the Empire State Federation and chairman of the Executive Board of the National Association of Colored Women.

Life of Harriet Tubman 

     “This memorial to that great heroine of my race is peculiarly appropriate,” Mrs. Talbert began.  “It typifies her character and deeds of courage and sacrifice are typified in this bronze tablet.”

     Harriet Tubman was born in 1820 in the eastern part of Maryland, Mrs. Talbert read, one of 11 children.  Early in life she was hired out as a weaver and was given the additional task of watching musk-rat traps. Only a little slave, that this might invoke hardships was not considered. Next she was hired out as a child-nurse but also had to serve as a maid.  Still a stupid child she was flogged unmercifully when she failed to perform a task properly. Her mistress was very cruel and the whip was often plied upon the back of the mere child. She received one blow that nearly proved fatal and she lay ill for a long time. Broken in health she was sent back to her mother only to be hired out to a worse tyrant and at the age of 13 she was doing a man’s work on a farm. For five years she was thus engaged.

     In 1844 she married a free colored man, John Tubman.  In 1849 her master died and though he had willed that his slaves be freed the rumor spread that these were to be sent far into the South.  Harriet made up her mind to flee. Traveling by day and hiding by night she made the racking journey toward the North and finally crossed the magic line and was in the land of freedom. Not content with being free herself, however, she returned to the South and stealthily began to aid the slaves in breaks for freedom.  Soon she had in successful operation the famous underground railway.  Party after party of negroes were slipped over the line through her management.  A price of $40,000 was put upon her head by the slaveholders but still she persevered. On her dangerous trips she carried but two weapons—a revolver and a bottle of paregoric. With the first she spurred on slaves who weary and discouraged would have given up the flight; With the paregoric she soothed the babies of the mothers she was leading to freedom, as they cried and became fretful during the terrible journeys.

     When the war broke out she was engaged as a spy and a nurse and performed invaluable services for the army of the North.  Often she stood in the thick of battle caring for those who had fallen.

     In her northward journeys she had come to Auburn and it was here she returned after the war to found a home for the poor and needy of her race. Previously she had brought her aged parents whom she had snatched from slavery to this city. Her parents were Harriet Greene and Benjamin Ross. Her last wish, Mrs. Talbert said, was that there would finally be reared such a home for the members of her race as she had dreamed of for years.  Mrs. Talbert concluded the biographical sketch as follows:

   “ This tablet will stand as a silent but effective monitor teaching the children  of Auburn and of the state and of the country to lead such noble, unselfish and helpful lives that they too may leave behind them memories which shall encourage others to live.” 

Doctor Washington’s Address 

     Mr. Aiken with a few words of tribute to the great educator, introduced Booker T. Washington.  The latter’s powers as an orator are well known and he spoke with great feeling last night. The large audience listened closely. The oration contained many strong and dramatic statements that called forth applause. And Doctor Washington told of many amusing incidents and related stories that brought bursts of laughter. There was a plentiful sprinkling of humor throughout the discourse. “I am proud of my race tonight,”  was one of the speaker’s declarations.  “I would not change my color or race with the whitest man in the country” was another one of his statements. Harriet Tubman he pronounced in spite of her lack of bookish education, “One of the best educated persons who ever lived in this country,” an education gained by harsh experiences and hardships. Most significant were his utterances concerning the race problem in the South. The old feeling is passing he said and stated that the members of his race were enjoying the very best of relationships. He praised the negro race for its great common sense which had helped it to advance.  The outlook for the race he said was very bright.  He spoke in part as follows:

   “In behalf of the race to which I belong, I wish to express my deep gratitude to the Auburn Business Men’s Association, the Cayuga County Historical Society, the other organizations and citizens of Auburn for their generosity and liberality in honoring the memory of one of the great members of the negro race, by placing this beautiful and fitting tablet in one of your public buildings.  It is most fitting and proper from every point of view that the name of Harriet Tubman should be perpetuated by means of this tablet so that her memory and deeds can live in the minds and hearts of the present generation, and can be held up as an object lesson for all time to the generations that follow. Harriet Tubman was a unique and great character of which any race and any age should be proud. Here in the city where she spent the larger part of her life, and here where her body rests, is the place of all places where this tribute of love and affection should be expressed.  The citizens of Auburn had a chance to know her better than the citizens of any other community. Indeed, she was a prophet not without honor in her own home.         

Special Thanks:  

Martha J. Lollis
Library Director
197 Franklin Street
Auburn, New York 13021-3099

(315) 255-1743

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