Along with her work with the Harriet Tubman Museum & Educational Center, Linda Harris is also a musician and singer/songwriter. Since 2020, she has walked and led groups nearly 1,000 miles along the Underground Railroad.
I am a baby boomer, born in the mid-’50s. My mom told me there was 3 feet of snow on the ground the day of my birth. A fire truck plowed through the snow to get her to the hospital. She delivered me at 1:58 a.m. on a February morning. I was 2 pounds, 10 ounces. What are the odds a tiny baby girl would survive? After a two-month stay in the hospital, my parents brought me home to a stock rambler house on Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts.
I grew up in a nurturing home, filled with books, music, art, home-cooked meals and adventure!
My dad always gifted my siblings and I on birthdays with a book or toy that stimulated thought and creativity. A book I remember most and still have is “Runaway Slave: The Story of Harriet Tubman” by Ann McGovern, and one toy was a kaleidoscope.
I grew up learning about and understanding my heritage, the ancestors and the possibilities of dreams, through light and vision. My life has been fortuitous. Two beautiful, independent children, a successful business, my music and, now, my work with the Harriet Tubman Museum & Educational Center.
Before 2020, I had never been to Cambridge, Maryland. But it was the events of 2020 — the pandemic, George Floyd, the separation from my family and inability to move about freely — that got me there. One late-night evening, while watching the coverage of George Floyd’s murder, that book about Harriet Tubman, published in 1965, began to glow on the third shelf of my bookcase. I walked over, picked it up and began to reread it, after 55 years. And immediately thought of freedom, light, vision and purpose.
The next day, I drove to Cambridge, explored, met with historians and ended up spending the weekend. After I returned home, I decided to walk the Underground Railroad, like Harriet. What better way to restore my freedom and find the light and vision that had been doused by the events of 2020.
Training throughout the summer months with seven other women, we conditioned ourselves for a journey of a lifetime. In September 2020, we walked from the Brodess plantation to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, just like Harriet.
During that walk, I had visions of what her journey was like. I could hear the dogs, horse hooves, sounds of guns. My heart pounding, feeling pain, fear, confusion and doubt. During the night of rest in anticipation of the next day’s journey, I wept. Keeping a journal and reading her story kept me focused on why we were walking and why we had to finish. After six days of walking and reaching Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, 116 miles from Cambridge, I was born anew, free. Remembering my birth, growing from a 2-pound-10-ounce baby girl to being strong and courageous. Understanding my roots, the ancestors, their struggles, their sacrifices. Knowing the importance of realizing my potentiality, giving back, helping the cause, fighting and sharing the meaning of living a purposeful life as an African American woman.
At the Harriet Tubman Museum & Educational Center, I have the great honor of giving lectures about her life and times, and leading walks along the Underground Railroad. Since that 2020 walk, I’ve led groups back to Philadelphia twice. My companion and I have walked Tubman’s Combahee River trail in South Carolina and Emmett Till’s trail, where his body was taken from Money, Mississippi, and dumped in the Tallahatchie River. And a group walk along U.S. 80 in Alabama, from Selma to Montgomery, followed the path of the 1965 voting rights march.
I regularly lead short tours along the Underground Railroad between Dorchester and Caroline counties in Maryland and will embark this Christmas Eve on our third walk commemorating Tubman’s 1854 Christmas Eve escape. In one of her many daring rescues, Tubman returns to the Eastern Shore to assist her brothers in escaping the Thompson plantation and the certainty of being sold south after Christmas.
I cannot think of a better way of embracing my faith and honoring the birth of a Savior than by leading these walks. Harriet’s faith was insurmountable. A free woman who risks everything to return to dangerous territory to help others find the freedom she held dear is the very essence of who we should be, as human beings. To be strong, to give, to love, to help our communities. To “find the Harriet in you”!