Editorial: Harriet’s Sisters - A 116-mile journey to Honor the Memory and Work of Harriet Tubman
By Richard Gaw
At about 6 p.m. last Thursday evening, as the eight women who formed the “We Walk with Harriet” team turned on to Birch Street in Kennett Square to celebrate the end of their 116-mile journey along the Tubman Byway to honor the memory and work of Harriet Tubman, none of them had any idea what lay immediately ahead of them.
They had begun their walk on Sept. 5 in Cambridge, Md. at the Brodess Farm, where Tubman had spent part of her childhood living in slavery, and now they were about to finish in a town that has become synonymous with the Underground Railroad and its place as a cornerstone of freedom.
As they walked side by side, their emotions became an exquisite blend of excitement, anticipation, exhaustion and reflection; the magnitude of what they had accomplished had suddenly caught up to them.
One walker, surrounded by local children of color who walked beside her, began weeping, comparing her journey – one where she and her companions were met in friendship and solidarity by strangers from Maryland to Kennett Square – to that of Tubman’s, who marched in the moonlight, guided only by lamplight and the North Star, always knowing that her life and the lives of those who accompanied her were in constant danger.
The women assumed that there would be a few residents waiting for them at the Kennett Creamery, where they imagined they would receive a small smattering of applause and acknowledgement. As they continued what would be the last steps of their journey, they saw a crowd of 150 residents ahead of them -- a half circle, five-deep, diverse breadth of humanity who cheered on their every step.
It was not known for certain what precipitated the high decibels that surrounded the welcome of the eight women last Thursday evening.
Most likely, it was the recognition of their efforts to bring attention to an historical figure, who gave hope to thousands of freedom seekers, abolitionists, conductors, and stationmasters.
Maybe they cheered at the beautiful audacity of eight women walking arm in arm toward them, who made the decision to puncture a tiny hole in a country torn by racial division in order to sow seeds of hope and unity.
Perhaps it was an affirmation of a word that had been applied to the women all along their route, used by people they passed in other towns.
It is the decision of everyone who has heard and seen the journey of these eight women over the past week whether or not to use the word “Hero.” It is for certain that for each of these women, all acknowledgment of heroism should be reserved not for them but for Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth and every abolitionist who dared speak and act against the grain of accepted ideals.
And yet, in this the Year of Atrocity, our world could use more heroes. For those who welcomed the eight women who formed “We Walk With Harriet” last Thursday in Kennett Square, all of that cheering was a very welcome sound.