© 2024 WSKG

601 Gates Road
Vestal, NY 13850

217 N Aurora St
Ithaca, NY 14850

FCC LICENSE RENEWAL
FCC Public Files:
WSKG-FM · WSQX-FM · WSQG-FM · WSQE · WSQA · WSQC-FM · WSQN · WSKG-TV · WSKA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Harriet Tubman's story expands in Auburn with new National Park Service addition

Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church in Auburn is a new addition to the National Parks System, June 2024
Ellen Abbott
/
WRVO
Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church in Auburn is a new addition to the National Parks System, June 2024

The Harriet Tubman experience in Auburn has expanded. Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church, which Tubman attended in the later years of her life, has been added to the National Park System.

It’s where Tubman was laid to rest in 1913, and has been painstakingly restored and rehabilitated to become part of the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, according to Superintendent Ahna Wilson.

"When the Park Service came in and started removing some of the modern renovations that had taken place over, you know, a hundred years, we found a lot of the original intact," Wilson said. "So if you look up in the choir loft, that is the original stenciling. That is from when Harriet Tubman was here."

Tubman’s legacy in Auburn is well documented. She’s best known as the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad, bringing enslaved people from the South to freedom in Canada. She sometimes came through Auburn, a hub for abolitionists in the mid-1800s. After the Civil War, Tubman settled in freedom in Auburn, with the help of local abolitionists. A seven-acre parcel she called home and her gravesite are also part of the National Historical Park.

"All of these places can be used as a pilgrimage site for people," Wilson said. "I mean, this is a deeply moving and very personal experience for lots of people to come in and be in the places that she worked and worshipped and where she is interred."

Ahna Wilson, superintendent of Women’s Rights National Historical Park and Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, inside the Thompson Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, Auburn, NY.
Ellen Abbott
/
WRVO
Ahna Wilson, superintendent of Women’s Rights National Historical Park and Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, inside the Thompson Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, Auburn, NY.

The $5 million project includes the church, and the parsonage next door. The floors are freshly refinished, the walls dotted with stencils and painted the same pink color used when the church was built in 1891, with the help of a $500 donation from Tubman. Courtney Casper, a manager at the New York State’s Equal Rights Heritage Center in Auburn, expects this addition to Tubman’s legacy to draw more visitors.

"I think that people look at Harriet Tubman as this historical figure, but this is a way to humanize her and to kind of tell a little bit more about who she was as a woman, and the life that she lived, and make her more not approachable, but where, you know, the youth hopefully will get inspired that 'I can do these things too, I can do big things,'" Casper said.

Tubman’s descendants said adding this church to the Tubman experience is evidence of how important her faith was to her.

"I am a great, great, great, that's three greats, grand-niece of Harriet Tubman," Michelle Galvin said.

Galvin’s great, great, great grandmother Sophia, was Tubman’s sister. She remembers going to the Church in the mid-80s when it was still an active parish.

"And it was always so warm and welcoming and I can see it in my mind's eye coming down the aisle taking our seat in the pew and then looking straight ahead and that's where all of the activity would be," Galvin said.

Galvin helped write a biography of her Aunt Harriet, someone who talked to God every day.

Interior of the Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church in Auburn
Ellen Abbott
/
WRVO
Interior of the Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church in Auburn

"So God was an integral part of who she was and her relationship with him dictated her spirit and her action"

Following a community opening, the church and parsonage are open to the public on a limited basis. Wilson said the Parks Department wants to get a sense of how the public wants to use the site.

"Do they want Ranger Guided Tours, or do they want a more self-guided tour?" Wilson said. "How do people come and experience the inside of a church that was attended by such a spiritually significant person?"

Right now the church is simply a large empty space. That could change.

“We are planning to have some seating in here although we're still doing research on what the seating would have been, what the pews were like, and deciding whether or not we want to have pews in here or if we wanted to have as a more flexible open space," Wilson said.

The one thing though that won’t change: the chance to see, touch, and feel the spirit of a woman, who not only led enslaved people to freedom, but who tended to the wounded in the Civil War, advocated for the poor and aged, and fought for a women’s right to vote. Galvin said Tubman’s advocacy of equality and freedom still resonates today.

"And today that would translate as fighting against having schools be pipelines to prison," Galvin said. "She would be for human rights, civil rights, reproductive rights, LBGT rights. It's all where the effort and the action is about equality and freedom."

For more information on the park, and Tubman’s home, which is still owned and run by the AME Zion Church, go to the National Park Service website.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.