In March of this year, singer and songwriter Linda Harris posted on Facebook: “Hey, I want to walk the Underground Railroad,” and set the challenge. The rest is history.
TSA Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist Jennifer Bailey and Professional Responsibilities Unit Chief Diane Wilson, along with six other women, organized to walk a 116-mile portion of the northern route known as the Tubman Byway from Cambridge, Maryland north to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
The women – from West Virginia, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Maryland – had never met before May. “I never met these women and we just came together and now I love them,” said Harris.
In May, training began in earnest with weekly practice hikes every Saturday where the women say they created a sisterhood – a space where they could talk about their problems and celebrate life together. “In a time of COVID-19 and societal angst, we found ourselves walking to breathe life into our own lives, and into the lives of one another,” said Bailey, the third person to join the quest.
Born more than 200 years ago into slavery, Harriet Tubman was known as the “Moses of her people.” History is unclear as to the exact number of trips (historians estimate between 13 and 17) she led in oftentimes deplorable conditions, but she is credited with helping more than 70 people to freedom. Tubman is said to have been a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, a network of people and places that supported enslaved people as they fled slavery.
This time, the trek was different. With the help of a logistical support team, cell phones and GPS tracking, the women covered 20 miles each day. Instead of hiding in safe houses, barns and old mine shafts, they slept in warm beds in their hotels, stopped at historic locations along the way, and enjoyed healthy and nutritious meals.
The 2020 trek was not an easy one, however. Under the blazing sun, the women suffered blisters, swollen feet and knee injuries. Even yet, the women say they celebrate those challenges. “I literally limped miles 35-40 and when I woke up the next day, my knees literally buckled under me,” said Wilson. “My ego wanted me to push through it, but my body needed to be honored. Ultimately, I sat out a day and a half in the middle of the trip which was disappointing then, but something to celebrate now. It took wisdom and humility, and I’ll count that as a win.”
The women also celebrated the outpouring of support and love they received along the trail, and marveled at the diversity of their supporters. They were hosted for a wonderful dinner by a Quaker family, were stopped and given supplies by truck drivers, and were even met by a group of women who had traveled two hours to give the group food and pray with them.
Their six-day pilgrimage is well-documented on their Facebook page, not to mention numerous network and TV interviews. A fifty-five minute YouTube movie provides an account of daily events and documents the entire trip.
Why did they do it? Their Facebook page “We Walk With Harriet” sheds some light on the question:
“We are walking because we are the daughters of Harriet Tubman.
We are walking because this is our story to tell.
We are walking for health, love and for justice.
Harriet gained freedom walking.
We walk with Harriet.”
“We like to say that Harriet is still conducting the Underground Railroad, and that she brought us together, and continues to bring others along,” said Bailey. “It was a divine appointment,” said Wilson.
At 5:40 p.m. on Thursday, September 10, they completed their journey as they danced and sang their way into Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
A number of the women in the group raised money in support of their walk and in support of various charities with missions close to their hearts. Their next walk is scheduled March 2021 when they plan to walk the Edmund Pettis Bridge from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama.