Lonely Planet Writer

Maryland now has a visitors center in honour of abolitionist Harriet Tubman

The life and legacy of abolitionist and Union spy Harriet Tubman is the focus of a new visitors center that just opened in Church Creek, Maryland, not far from the birthplace she escaped from in 1849.

Harriet Tubman photographed with a group of slaves she helped escape.
Harriet Tubman photographed with a group of slaves she helped escape. Image by Getty Images

The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center ‘serves as an invitation to all people to learn more about Harriet Tubman and how her acts of determination, courage and selflessness impacted our nation,’ according to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. The 10,000-square-foot center chronicles Tubman’s years in slavery, her escape and her subsequent work to guide others to freedom, which meant risking her own life. It is the first National Park to honor an African American woman.

Designed by architect Chris Elcock, the building provides some subliminal cues for visitors. The view north is clear, but the view south is ‘tighter,’ according to Elcock. “The essential idea is you’re moving forward to escape the circumstances of slavery,” he explains. The many forking trails on the grounds attempt to echo the difficult decisions Tubman made as she guided others to freedom.

 Portraits of Harriet Tubman hang in the Harriet Tubman Museum and Education Center in Cambridge.
Portraits of Harriet Tubman hang in the Harriet Tubman Museum and Education Center in Cambridge. Image by Getty Images

Opening ceremonies on 10 March drew a crowd of hundreds, including a Tubman re-enactor and men dressed in the Civil War uniforms of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, an African American unit that Tubman herself served with during the war. This isn’t the first Tubman-related news of 2017: in February, a new photograph of Tubman was discovered in an album once owned by a fellow abolitionist. It is expected to sell for more than $20,000 when it goes up for auction on 30 March. And of course, Tubman will appear on the US $20 bill sometime after 2020, when the currency is redesigned.

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