About the National Archives

Harriet Tubman: A Woman of Courage and Vision

Archivist’s welcome for
Harriet Tubman: A Woman of Courage and Vision
Tuesday, February 28, at 7 p.m.
McGowan Theater, Archives I

Good evening. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States. Welcome to those here in the William G. McGowan Theater and to those watching on YouTube for tonight’s discussion about “Harriet Tubman: A Woman of Courage and Vision.”

We’re pleased to present this program in partnership with the National Park Service in celebration of the upcoming grand opening of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park in Church Creek, Maryland.

Before we get to tonight’s program, I’d like to tell you about two upcoming programs that will take place in this theater.

On Thursday, March 2, at 7 p.m., a program titled “The Glass Ceiling, Broken or Cracked?” will present a bipartisan group of former congresswomen to discuss their paths to public service, the challenges they faced, and the obstacles they still need to overcome. Our partner for this discussion is the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress.

Next Wednesday, March 8, at noon, author Scott Miller will be here to discuss and sign his new book, Agent 110: An American Spymaster and the German Resistance in World War II.

To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events in print or online at Archives.gov. There are copies in the lobby—along with a sign-up sheet so you can receive it by regular mail or email. You’ll also find brochures about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.

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During the Civil War, escaped slave, Underground Railroad conductor, and abolitionist Harriet Tubman Davis served the Union side as a scout, nurse, cook, and spy. For all she endured and accomplished, her life is legendary. Legendary, but not legend, for the evidence of her deeds resides in various archives and manuscript collections—and here at the National Archives.

In 1863 Tubman makes an appearance as a witness in a court-martial proceeding. At the time, she was working as a nurse at a contraband camp in South Carolina, and the court transcript allows us to hear her in her own words.

After the war she received a pension as the widow of Union veteran Nelson Davis, who had served as a private in the Eight United States Colored Infantry. Years after he died, Tubman petitioned Congress for additional benefits for her own services, outlined in her affidavit as “nurse and cook in hospitals, and as commander of several men (eight or nine) as scouts during the late war.”

Congress received numerous documents and letters supporting Tubman's claim, and they, along with her affidavit, are here in the records of the United States House of Representatives. In 1899 Congress passed, and the President signed, legislation that authorized an increase of Tubman's pension to twenty dollars a month for her service as a nurse.

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Tonight, a distinguished panel will examine the life and legacy of Harriet Tubman and the ongoing preservation efforts of her Maryland birthplace. We will begin with a presentation from Robert T. Parker, Superintendent of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Dorchester County, Maryland. Then Dr. Ida Jones, University Archivist at Morgan State University, will lead the discussion.

Robert T. Parker has been superintendent of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park and the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program since August 2014. Before that appointment, Parker was the superintendent of the Charles Young Buffalo Soldier National Monument in Ohio and the Chief of Interpretation, Education, and Cultural Resources at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, and the site manager of the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House and Carter G. Woodson Home in Washington, DC.

Dr. Ida E. Jones is the University Archivist at Morgan State University.  Her scholarship is evident in numerous publications and speaking engagements, as well as radio and television appearances. She is the author of three books—all biographies on pivotal figures in African American history whose lives in Washington, DC, have been lesser known.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Robert Parker, Dr. Ida Jones, and the panel to the stage.