As dusk descended in Pennsylvania on the evening of September 10, a group of eight women walked into the Kennett Square Historic District to claps, cheers, shouts, and celebrations. The occasion was monumentous: After months of training and five days of walking, they had just completed retracing Harriet Tubman’s footsteps, hiking 116 miles along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.
As an abolitionist, suffragist, human rights activist, and operator of the Underground Railroad, Tubman traveled between Pennsylvania and Maryland nearly 15 times over the course of a decade, guiding friends and family to freedom. The women retracing her steps—who hadn’t met each other before connecting on social media in May, and who range in age from their thirties to their sixties—were led by organizer Linda Harris. A Washington, D.C.-based singer, Harris came up with the idea in the wake of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd. She told NBC Washington that the journey was both spiritual and symbolic and that she sees it as paying homage to those who seek freedom.
“We’ve got divisiveness and crime and hatred [in the United States], and we need to be free of all of those things,” Harris said. “I’m just walking to freedom. Harriet would want us to.”
On September 5, the group took off from Brodess Farm, now on a quiet stretch of Greenbrier Road in Cambridge, where Tubman spent part of her childhood in slavery. The women walked an average of 20 miles a day, mostly along highways, dancing and singing to pass the time. They slept in preplanned hotels along the way but were supported by the kindness of strangers during their walk: They were given water, snacks, baked goods, and money for meals and were sought out by those following their journey on social media who wanted to offer encouragement or make available their homes, restrooms, and yards for rest. Despite passing a yard full of Confederate flags at one point, the group was given water and offered chairs from another home nearby, which Harris told Fox 5 affirmed her reasons for wanting to undertake the hike.
To raise awareness of Tubman’s legacy, Harris set up a Go Fund Me page. Harris will donate all money raised to the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center in downtown Cambridge, “so that they may continue educational outreach about the humanitarian work and efforts of Harriet Tubman.” Another participant, Jennifer Bailey, set up a page to raise money for World Central Kitchen. (Even though the walk is over, both are still accepting donations.) On September 12, Tubman will be celebrated with a “Day of Resilience” in Cambridge, which will include the unveiling of a nine-foot, 2,400-pound bronze sculpture of Tubman by national award-winning sculptor Wesley Wofford. Harris, fittingly, will close the event with a jazz concert.