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Harriet Tubman Artifacts Donated To Smithsonian

Harriet Tubman is one of those heroes of American history whose achievements on the Underground Railroad have been both an inspiration and a challenge to millions.

Harriet Tubman. AP Photo/Library of Congress hide caption

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AP Photo/Library of Congress

Her repeated trips to the slave South to lead dozens of those in bondage to freedom inspires because it shows what is possible when physical courage is matched with moral outrage. And it challenges by causing many of us to ask themselves just how much we're willing to risk to make the world more just.

Thus, many people will welcome the news that a Philadelphia collector has donated Tubman's gospel hymn book and other artifacts related to her to the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture scheduled to open in 2015.

As the Washington Post reported:

The book of gospel hymns was among an extraordinary trove of Tubman artifacts given Wednesday to the National Museum of African American History and Culture by esteemed collector and author Charles L. Blockson. Lonnie G. Bunch, the founding director of the museum, described the November meeting in Philadelphia when Blockson, who lives there, first showed the staff the 39 objects he is donating.

"Each object in this collection humbled us, excited us and moved us to tears. And then, Dr. Blockson uncovered Harriet Tubman's personal hymnal, and I think many of us lost it," Bunch said.

Among the items slated for the museum are a framed portrait, one of the few photographic images of Tubman known to exist; a beige silk and linen shawl given to Tubman by Queen Victoria; three postcards depicting Tubman's funeral in 1913; and her wooden-handled knife and fork.

For Bunch, a historian who has been collecting artifacts for the museum for the past five years (it is scheduled to open in 2015), the significance of the objects is undeniable. "I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because I was viewing material that I never expected to see, material that few knew existed," Bunch said.

Tubman's is one of only a small number of American names from the slavery era that has not been erased from history. Born on Maryland's Eastern Shore around 1820, she escaped from slavery and made at least 19 trips back into slave territory to lead hundreds of others to freedom. During the Civil War, Tubman worked as a spy and nurse for the Union Army and led a raid that freed more than 750 people. She was married twice and during her later years devoted herself to work with the church and education groups, becoming a spokeswoman for racial and women's struggles.

An example of Tubman's continued presence in the modern psyche can be found on the news blog of WNYC, NPR's New York member station, there's a post about a commemoration of Tubman held Wednesday (March 10 is Harriet Tubman Day in New York state.) An actor playing Tubman told the audience of the importance of responding to the Census.