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Binghamton walking trail highlights significant spots in history of Underground Railroad

Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo
Anne C. Bailey, director of Binghamton University's Harriet Tubman Center for Freedom and Equity, near the spot where a statue of Tubman will stand along the walking trail.

A new walking trail in downtown Binghamton will mark important locations in the history of the Underground Railroad in the region. Binghamton University’s Harriet Tubman Center for Freedom and Equity officially opened the trail Tuesday.

The Tubman Center also unveiled the chosen design for a new statue of Tubman to be placed next to the first marker on the trail alongside the Chenango River.

The Downtown Binghamton Freedom Trail has 12 markers in total, each honoring local figures who helped protect enslaved people while they made their way to freedom.

The figures celebrated include Elias Hawley, who helped runaways reach safe houses in the city, and Stephen Hand, a conductor on the Underground Railroad and co-founder of the Broome County Anti-Slavery Society.

“We just kept on digging around, going through all kinds of records all across the city, and cross-checking a lot of things to try and see if we could really identify who were the really great heroes that have not been given their due here in downtown Binghamton,” said Anne C. Bailey, director of the Tubman Center.

The trail ends at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park. Bailey said the statue of Harriet Tubman, which was designed by sculptor Zoe Dufour, will be facing the statue of King along the river.

Binghamton University
A map of the twelve stops along the Downtown Binghamton Freedom Trail.

Bailey said she feels inspired and challenged by the legacy of Tubman and others honored on the trail.

“It takes a multicultural band of brave, courageous, everyday heroes to make change and to sometimes speak up against injustice, to sometimes actually put themselves on the line,” Bailey said.

A crowd of people, including the descendant of Stephen Hand, a local conductor on the Underground Railroad, celebrated the opening of the new trail and unveiling of the statue design.

“These markers should serve as a reminder that we are still forging paths for diversity, equity and inclusion in our country. History happened here, yes. But the future is going to happen here too,” Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger said. “And my hope for the Freedom Trail is that these markers will tell us where we’ve been, while also giving us a path forward.”

A group of fifth graders from Woodrow Wilson Elementary School also joined the celebration. The Tubman Center has been working with the Binghamton City School District to use the walking trail as a teaching tool.

The statue of Harriet Tubman will be finished in roughly a year. Funding for the project came, in part, from $400,000 in state funds and $100,000 from the city of Binghamton.