The Maryland Senate has passed a bill that would rename an established Black history museum in Annapolis to better celebrate Harriet Tubman and her ties to Maryland.
The Senate on Thursday voted 44-0 to approve a bill that would add Tubman’s name to that of the 40-year-old Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis. Under the measure, it would become the Banneker-Douglass-Tubman Museum.
The Senate bill, SB 341, is sponsored by Sens. Cory McCray, Malcolm Augustine, Benjamin Brooks, Mary Beth Carozza, Brian Feldman, Jason Gallion, Katie Fry Hester, Cheryl Kagan and Karen Lewis Young.
A companion bill in the House, HB 390, was introduced by Del. Shaneka Henson and reported out favorably by the Health and Government Operations Committee.
The Annapolis Democrat said that when people think of historical figures in Maryland, Harriet Tubman should be in that conversation.
While many of Tubman’s contributions are widely known, Henson said, “her connection to Maryland is something that we want to be clear and strong as well.”
“We know that she was enslaved along the Tuckahoe Creek in Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where she self-emancipated and went up to Philadelphia, and then returned to Maryland numerous times to liberate other people from enslavement,” Henson said.
Edwin T. Johnson, chair of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, said he isn’t surprised that some might not know Tubman was born in Maryland.
“Look at the history” of Black people in mainstream histories, Johnson said. “They cherry-pick a couple of figures.”
He continued, “Most of the time, you’re guaranteed to get [Frederick] Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr., you might get Rosa Parks mentioned more often than Harriet Tubman, because for a lot of folks, Harriet Tubman was just too radical.”
Tubman was born into slavery in Dorchester County and escaped in 1849 at age 27. She went on to guide dozens of people, including many family members, to freedom via the Underground Railroad. She was a nurse as well as a spy in the Union Army, the first woman to lead a major military operation, and a suffragette, according to Chanel Compton, director of the Banneker-Douglass Museum.
The name change was the brainchild of Johnson, a historian who currently serves as special assistant to the provost at Morgan State University. He said it represents a start in putting women of color in their rightful place, alongside their male counterparts.
“The same way African Americans are missing from mainstream American history, women of color are often left out of African American history and African studies,” Johnson said. “So, if we’re going to be fair and just and accurate, the same way we try to do our due diligence to make sure that people of color [are recognized], we also need to make sure that women of color are not ignored because sexism is just as bad as racism.”
Johnson started on a journey to rename the museum two years ago. He discovered that it would take more than paperwork and an executive order to accomplish this — it would take legislation.
Compton believes Tubman should have been included in the museum’s name when it was dedicated on Feb. 24, 1984.
“Harriet Tubman symbolizes the contributions of Black women in Maryland who have shaped our state and really our nation,” Compton said.
The Banneker-Douglass Museum, located at 84 Franklin St. in Annapolis, is operated by the Commission on African American History and Culture, according to its website. The original museum was in the former Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church, the website states.
The current museum is named after Benjamin Banneker, a mathematician and almanac author who was born free on a tobacco farm in Baltimore County, and Frederick Douglass, a Talbot County native who escaped slavery in 1838 and became the first Black man to gain prominence internationally as a social crusader, the website states.
On the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Tubman’s life is now celebrated at various locations, including the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, a joint project of the state and the National Park Service that opened in 2017, and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, a 125-mile route through Dorchester and Caroline counties.
There is also a national historical park named after Tubman in Central New York. She lived in Auburn, New York, from 1859 until her death in 1913, according to the National Park Service.
Now, Tubman’s life seems likely to be more fully honored at Maryland’s official museum of African American heritage. If the bill wins final passage, the museum plans to include more on her life and legacy through programs and exhibitions.
“Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass, and soon to be Harriet Tubman are the museum’s namesakes,” Compton said. “But our mission is to promote Maryland African American history and culture.”