Rep. Maffei Delivers Floor Speech Honoring Harriet Tubman

WASHINGTON, DC-- U.S. Representative Dan Maffei (D-Syracuse) delivered a speech on the House floor today to honor the life and achievements of Harriet Tubman. Rep. Maffei’s legislation, which would create the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, passed the House last week as part of the National Defense Authorization Act and is now awaiting passage by the Senate.
A video of Rep. Maffei’s floor speech may be found here. Below are Rep. Maffei’s remarks:



DECEMBER 8, 2014
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
In this nation’s great history, the life of Harriet Ross Tubman is certainly a life worth recognition by this Congress, and this country.
Harriet Tubman, born Araminta Ross in 1822, dedicated her life to the emancipation movement, as a leader of the Underground Railroad that provided enslaved African Americans a pathway to freedom in the North. She served for the Union Army during the Civil War and was a caregiver for the elderly by establishing the Tubman Home for the Aged in Auburn, New York, where she lived out her life.
She suffered from traumatic brain injury throughout her life, after she was hit as a teenager with a heavy weight, by a slave overseer who was trying to subdue another enslaved person. She was an advocate for women’s rights, and worked to get women the vote. And after settling in Auburn, she dedicated much of her life and effort to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church there.
In 2008 the National Park Service completed a Special Resource Study to determine the most appropriate way to recognize the life of Harriet Tubman. The Park Service eventually came to the conclusion that a park should include two geographically separate units. One would be a tightly clustered set of buildings in Auburn, New York, and the other would include large sections of landscape that are evocative of Tubman’s life, both as a slave and as a conductor of the Underground Railroad on the eastern shore of Maryland. The Harriet Tubman National Historical Parks Act, which I introduced, aims to further commemorate the life of Harriet Tubman, by establishing the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Dorchester County, Maryland.
Harriet Tubman Historical Park is located in Auburn, New York, and the part of that that includes historical structures like the Tubman Home, the Tubman Home for the Aged, the AME Zion Church that she went to, and the Fort Hill Cemetery where she is buried. Mr. Speaker, last week this House passed legislation as part of the Armed Services authorization bill to establish a park in Tubman’s honor. This week, I hope the Senate will also pass this legislation and send it to President Obama for his signature.
It is completely appropriate that this provision should be included, for though not as well-known as her activity on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman was one of our first African American women military veterans. She volunteered her time and efforts, traveling to the South to help the Union war effort, by helping fugitives and serving as a nurse to Union soldiers in Port Royal, South Carolina. Eventually she was leading bands of scouts through the land and Port Royal, where her ability to travel unseen, and fool her adversaries, made her an ideal spy. Her group, working under the orders of the Secretary of War, made maps and collected important intelligence that aided the Union capture of Jacksonville, Florida. Subsequently, Tubman became the first woman to lead an armed assault during the Civil War. When Union Col. James Montgomery and his troops attacked plantations along the Combahee River, Tubman went with them and guided three steamboats around Confederate mines and the waters leading to the shore. More than 750 enslaved African Americans were rescued in the Combahee River raid, and according to newspapers at the time, most of those newly liberated men went on to join the Union army, largely due to Tubman’s recruiting efforts.
Mr. Speaker, Harriet Tubman lived for freedom, and worked hard to extend freedom to hundreds of others. In doing so, she earned the nation’s respect and honor. A century after her death, I am proud to have worked so hard to establish a fitting memorial to her. I truly believe that Harriet Tubman’s example of inner strength, persistence, her love of freedom, and her dedication to the nation based on the principles of freedom make her as relevant today as she was in her own time.
Mr. Speaker, our time is filled with too much cynicism, and people are feeling powerless to do much better in our society. We should look to the example of Harriet Tubman, a true American patriot. She was someone for whom liberty and freedom were not just concepts, but were principles worth working for and fighting for. According to Tubman’s authorized biographer Sarah Bradford, when Tubman escaped from slavery to the northern states she said: “I looked at my hands to make sure I was the same person, there was such a glory over everything. The sun came up like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”
We, Mr. Speaker, should look to Harriet Tubman, an enslaved African American woman of slight physical stature and suffering from head trauma, and realize that the glory of Heaven that is American freedom is there for us all, if we are willing to work for it, and to fight for it, and believe in it, as Harriet Tubman did.
I yield the balance of my time.
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    repName Dan Maffei  
    helpWithFedAgencyAddress Attn: Constituent Services
    422 Cannon House Office Building
    Washington, DC 20515
    district 24th District of New York  
    academyUSCitizenDate July 1, 2012  
    academyAgeDate July 1, 2012  
    academyApplicationDueDate October 20, 2012  
    repStateABBR NY  
    repDistrict 24  
    repState New York  
    repDistrictText 1st  
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