New Harriet Tubman signs point Thruway drivers to history

Feb 19, 2016

Motorists on the Thruway are seeing signs near the site of the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn in an initiative that pays tribute to an icon in African-American history.

Tubman was a famous “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, a lifeline for many slaves seeking freedom.

At Buffalo’s Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor Thursday, Kent Olden, an ancestor of  Tubman, praised efforts to promote awareness, saying Black History Month should be a year-round mission.

“There’s so much about our history that we are not told in the classroom and it’s up to us to keep the dialogue going just to know everything that there is to know about ourselves,” said Olden

“I think it’s a good springboard to spark good conversation in the car with the family. Now it’s there to be seen. The sign is there. You can’t ignore it and maybe it will start a discussion within the family that’s in that car and maybe it will motivate them to make that stop.”

The bill that created the Tubman signage was sponsored by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes. The Buffalo Democrat said says the tribute to Tubman took some work.

“Things worth doing are worth waiting for and having the patience and the diligence to keep following through with it. Much like Harriet did. One of her most favorite quotes that I like the most is, 'I could have freed more slaves had they known they were slaves.' Sometimes it takes people a little longer to realize that we need to do some things,” said Peoples-Stokes.

Local tourism officials say cultural tourism is an important part of telling Buffalo’s story. Patrick Kaler who heads Visit Buffalo Niagara, talked about the region's rich cultural heritage, including the Colored Musician's Club in downtown Buffalo.   

“Our city's prominence in the music world be nowhere without Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald performing at the colored musicians club or the many festivals that welcome thousands of visitors celebrating our history’s gospel and jazz roots,” said Kaler.

Karen Stanley Fleming, who chairs the Heritage Corridor Commission, says it is important to showcase attractions that highlight the full story of African-American history.