Harriet Tubman, other women, deserve spotlight


April 2, 2013 - 12:00 AM

Harriet Tubman, the African-American who sheltered slaves along the Underground Railroad, has earned her day in the sun.
Almost 150  years after her heroic service, two small national parks have been designated to honor Tubman.
Congress stalled on the action, only to be rescued by President Obama who used his powers under the 1906 Antiquities Act to set aside important natural, cultural and historical sites for permanent protection.
Tubman was born into slavery in 1820 in Maryland. She escaped at age 27. A monument in Tubman’s honor will be placed  in a 480-acre park donated by The Conservation Fund. Significant to the area is Stewart’s Canal, a manmade waterway Tubman’s father, Ben Ross, helped build as a slave. It’s also the home site of Jacob Jackson, a free black man who used coded letters to help Tubman communicate with family and others.
A park in Auburn, N.Y. will honor Tubman’s later work of helping the aged and infirmed as well as fighting for women’s suffrage.
Tubman endured slavery for almost 30 years before she escaped in 1849. Over the next 10 years “Moses,” — “Let my people go!” — as she was known to supporters, risked her life over and again to give shelter to fleeing slaves along the Eastern shore. In the course of her work as a “conductor” along the railway, Tubman and others would help runaways sneak across fields, through towns and over waterways during the cover of night.
It’s thought about 100,000 fugitive slaves made their way north through such daring maneuvers.
Tubman also worked as a nurse and a spy for the Union during the Civil War.
She died 100 years ago, on March 10, 1913.
Tubman’s not alone in falling under the national radar for heroes. Women as a whole are under-represented. A mere 8 percent of outdoor public statues in the United States are of female figures. Of the 100 sculptures — two per state — in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, only 10 are of women, seven of whom are white. A statue of Rosa Parks was unveiled on Feb. 27, introducing the first full-body statue of an African American woman. Since 2000, states have been allowed to replace their sculptures, making it easier for more statues of women to be installed. So far, only four have been added.
Kansas’ representatives in the hall are President Dwight D. Eisenhower and John James Ingalls.
No quarrel here with either designation.
Eisenhower needs no introduction, and in fact  his statue replaced that of George Washington Glick in 2003.
Ingalls, 1833-1900, worked to make Kansas a free state and is credited with our state motto, Ad Astra per Aspera, Latin for “Through hardships to the stars.”
Still, Kansas has many notable women including former Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum and former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who someday should have their images cast in stone upon state grounds. How about alongside Amelia Earhart in the state capitol? Or wherever.
What’s important is that today’s women serve in as many roles as their male counterparts and deserve equal representation.

— Susan Lynn

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