Bridge brings focus on
Combahee River span to
honor woman's work
BY ANDY PARAS
The Post and Courier
WALTERBORO - Harriet Tubman will once
again provide safe passage to the North. And, as a sign of the times,
to the South as well.
The state Legislature recently honored
the Underground Railroad conductor by naming the future U.S. Highway
17 bridge over the Combahee River the Harriet Tubman Bridge.
The bridge will be just south of where
historians think Tubman helped lead a Union raid on several
plantations that freed more than 750 slaves on the night of June 2,
Rep. Kenneth Hodges, D-Bennetts Point,
sponsored the bill in hopes of bringing recognition to a prominent
hero and the area's rich history.
"Harriet Tubman is certainly the most
prominent person to come out of that era," Hodges said. "People are
always naming bridges, but naming that bridge after her will have
The General Assembly's action resonated
with Vivian Abdur-Rahim, founder and director of the Harriet Tubman
Historical Society in Wilmington, Del. The advocacy group is pushing
for a national day of celebration to honor Tubman.
"She was one of our greatest heroes,"
Abdur-Rahim said. "Naming that bridge is quite an honor in recognition
of her services in the Civil War."
Catherine Clinton, author of the 2004
book, "Harriet Tubman - The Road to Freedom," said Tubman was more
than just a conductor on the Underground Railroad. She was also an
"abductor" - someone who crossed enemy lines to free family members
and many others so they could be shepherded north to freedom.
"She had served so heroically with the
Underground Railroad," Clinton said.
Once the Civil War began, the Union
found ways to use Tubman to their advantage.
Historians said she spent about three
years in Union-occupied Beaufort County, scouting and possibly spying
for the North, though there are no records to prove that.
"We are burdened by the fact that
people who are spies and do clandestine work often do not keep
records," Clinton said.
Clinton said Tubman was illiterate but
had a steel-trap memory that aided her as a spy.
A July 1863 article in The
Commonwealth, a Boston-based abolitionist newspaper, credits Tubman
with inspiring and helping orchestrate the raid on the Southern
Tubman and about 150 black troops led
by Col. James Montgomery left Port Royal and moved up the Combahee
River for the attack.
Clinton said Tubman's relationship with
the slaves, though often hindered by the fact she didn't speak Gullah,
allowed her to help steer the Union's gunboats away from Confederate
The soldiers caught the plantations
"The Combahee River raid was one of the
most drastic events during the course of her career," Clinton said.
Clinton, who was a professor at the
Citadel when Charleston held America's First Decoration Day
celebration in 2002, said the General Assembly's action is another
significant step at celebrating the history of everyone.
"Building a bridge and naming it after
someone like Harriet Tubman shows it is honoring many histories, and
by doing that, it is building a bridge to the future," Clinton said.
The state Department of Transportation
is expected to begin work on the $13 million bridge in the spring.
Abdur-Rahim said the dedication will
make more people aware of Tubman's contributions.
"She was really someone who very few of
us will ever forget," Abdur-Rahim said.
Reach Andy Paras at (843) 549-9210 or at
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