The black history renaissance that our leaders should not miss
© Getty

The grand opening of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center is an opportunity for a fractured nation to find a common vision around the ideals of freedom which the heroine embodies. It is the latest in a series of heritage milestones in some of the most unexpected places, which are restoring the overlooked central role of African-Americans in American history.

The Tubman grand opening should serve as a lesson to the Trump administration about how to avoid such snafus as the HBCU executive order signing, which promised much, but delivered a cringe worthy moment for the administration.

The country is at a crossroads in how we view and talk about race. And the current administration should play a role in celebrating that diversity and joining those conversations. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Just as Dr. Henry Louis Gates' African Civilizations series on PBS is opening eyes who never imagined that the words African and Civilization would be used in the same sentence, the federal-state partnership between the National Park Service and Maryland is a model which can be replicated across the country.

 

It is the fruit of Congress' wisdom in the 1980s to create the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, which unleashed rangers, community researchers and genealogists to find vast new stories about what National Park Service calls the most significant social movement of the 19th century.

The movie Amistad spurred more than two dozen states to create commissions specifically focused on the study of African-American heritage resulting in a series of freedom trails in local communities and statewide from Vermont to Mississippi.

Tourists along New York's Freedom Trail can see where a black restaurant owner fed George Washington in the 1700s.

Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled in November the Texas African-American Monument, created by Ed Dwight, also the sculptor for the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. in November as the centerpiece for that state's Freedom Trail. It was the 29th Connecticut Colored Volunteers, the same unit that broke the! siege of Petersburg and cut off Robert E. Lee's route of escape to force his surrender, that had the honor of taking Texas' state capital of Galveston on June 19, 1865, the last Confederate state to fall.

In Ohio, the River to Lake Freedom Trail supplements the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati by showcasing the 3,000 miles of trails used in the most extensive route system in the Underground Railroad.

The opening of the Tubman center March 11-12 is an opportunity to see that scholarship up close in the form of re-enactors and authors who have explored the many facets of her interesting life. Although placed on a pedestal in the 19th century, the former Araminta Ross still has lots of new surprises to spring forth.

In recent months, the re-authorization of the Gullah-Geechee National Heritage Corridor which touches five states from Virginia to Florida for ten years means renewal for an even more extensive federal state partnership.

The Buffalo Soldiers in National Parks study to create a trail through California from San Francisco's Presidio to Yosemite, Grand Teton and Sequoia National Parks, patrolled by Buffalo Soldiers before the creation of the National Park Service, is nearing completion.

A new bill in the California Assembly by Assemblymember Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, seeks to make the California African-American Freedom Trail, with 6,000 sites, the first such trail on the West Coast.

These developments move towards the eventual creation of a nationwide African-American Freedom Trail. 

As the Underground Railroad went in every direction and touched every part of the country, it is incumbent that we provide the same scrutiny of lesser known conductors and passengers. It took a Berkeley woman 20 years just to find her ancestor's slave narrative, The Life of William Grimes.

Trump can take the examples of what governors of both parties are doing around the country to honor heritage and strengthen the future by instilling the values of freedom through the heroic stories of the past.

John William Templeton is the former editor of the San Jose Business Journal, Richmond Business Journal and the Winston Salem Chronicle. He's a regular contributor with San Francisco Chronicle.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.