Congress set to establish Harriet Tubman national parks in Auburn and Maryland

WASHINGTON, D.C.– The city of Auburn will likely be home to America’s next national historical park thanks to a deal reached late Tuesday between House and Senate negotiators.

Harriet Tubman’s former homes in Upstate New York and along Maryland’s Eastern Shore are designated as national historical parks in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015, the annual bill that sets policy for the U.S. defense budget.

Although the bill typically does not include authorization for national parks, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., managed to include language establishing the Tubman parks.

If approved, it would mark the first time in U.S. history for a national park to be established honoring an African-American woman.

Tubman, a former slave, became a leader of the abolitionist movement and used the Underground Railroad network of activists to help rescue dozens of family and friends from slavery.

Members of Congress from New York state and Maryland had tried and failed for the past six years to establish the parks through the normal legislative process.

Now the House could vote as early as today to pass the $584 billion NDAA bill and send it to the Senate by the end of the week, according to U.S. Sens. Carl Levin. D-Mich., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Senate voted unanimously in July to establish the Tubman parks, but the House companion bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei, D-Syracuse, never advanced in the House. The bill was supported by all 27 members of New York’s congressional delegation and the Congressional Black Caucus.

If Congress failed to act before the end of the year, a new Tubman bill would have to be introduced when the 114th Congress convenes in January — setting the process back to the beginning.

Schumer is optimistic that Congress will approve the NDAA this week with the language establishing the Tubman parks.

“This is a momentous milestone in our quest to make the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn a national historical park,” Schumer said this morning after the House-Senate agreement.

“The inclusion of this provision in the national defense authorization bill means that we are on the precipice of finally making this a reality,” Schumer said. “All we need now is for this bill to pass both the House and the Senate, and then the request heads straight
to the president’s desk.”

Congress has passed the annual authorization bill for 52 consecutive years with bipartisan support. The bill language is rarely, if ever, changed after an agreement by House-Senate negotiators.

It was not immediately clear how much federal money would be authorized for the parks projects. The bill authorizes the money necessary for the National Park Service to establish the park, with the federal share not to exceed 50 percent of the total cost.

The Auburn park would include Tubman’s former home at 180 South St., as well as the Tubman Home for the Aged and the Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church and Rectory.

The separate bill approved in July by the Senate had included $7.5 million to preserve and restore Tubman’s former residence and the related properties on 32 acres along Auburn’s South Street.

In Maryland, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park would trace Tubman’s early life where she was born and later escaped from slavery to become a leader of the Underground Railroad

Schumer urged colleagues from both parties to give Tubman the recognition she deserves.

“Harriet Tubman, who called Auburn her home, is a pioneer and a true American hero who deserves to be honored for her bravery, service to the nation and compassion,” he said. “She has left an indelible mark on America, and this national park will be a true testament to her life’s work — and all that is best about our nation.”

The Auburn national park does not include the nearby home that belonged to former U.S. Secretary of State William Seward, a friend of Tubman’s. Seward’s former home is now a house museum open to the public.

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