Remarks by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Harriet Tubman Home
Auburn, New York
July 15, 1998
Thank you. I am so honored and privileged to be here today. Thefirst thing that I would like to do is to thank the Thompson Memorial YouthGroup for that wonderful performance, thank you all very much. Clearly thelife of Harriet Tubman is very real to all the people we saw preforming onthe stage and I understand that some of them are descendants of thisremarkable woman. I want to thank the Mayor and the city of Auburn formaking me feel so welcome and for giving me that plaque and key to thecity; Mayor, I really appreciate that. I want to thank Reverend and Mrs.Carter and the entire church for helping to plan this event and being soinstrumental in reviving and continuing the memory of Harriet Tubman. Iwant to thank Bishop Walker, who is the Bishop of this region and whohimself is the chairman of the Harriet Tubman Home and for all the workthat you do, Bishop, and that the church supports you in doing.
One of the reasons I am here and why we chose to make this stop on ourSave America's Treasures Tour is because I wanted to bring more attentionto this remarkable woman, to her life and accomplishments, and to makesure that the sites and objects that are linked to her are preserved forall of us for the future. I believe that this region of New York, thisregion of our country, is especially important to a very particular specialpart of our history.
I just came from the Seward House and I just cannot tell you howimpressed I was with those of you who support Secretary Seward's legacy andwhat you have done to maintain his memory and his accomplishments. But oneof the very special aspects of the story that I learned in visiting thehouse was the relationship between Harriet Tubman and the Seward family.And how the Seward home served as a stop for runaway slaves on theUnderground Railroad.
So this is a special place indeed. Harriet Tubman's story is one ofpersonal triumph and extraordinary courage as we saw enacted by the youngwoman who did such a good job in demonstrating to us the kind of feelingsand thoughts that went through Harriet Tubman's mind.
As she once said, "I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was oneof two things I had a right to: liberty or death. If I could not have one,I would have the other." Now think of what that means for young woman, ayoung slave woman, deprived of education but having that yearning in hersoul that is universal among all human beings, who understood that shedeserved and merited a life that was better and different than the one shewas consigned to. But what courage it must have taken for her to even havethought these thoughts, let alone to have acted on them. It was that deepreserve of faith in her God and in her own resilience that gave her thecourage to be the Moses of her people.
I have heard so many stories and in preparing for being here with youtoday, I have reread and learned more stories. About how she would usethe North Star and the moss on the side of a tree to point her in the rightdirection. How she sometimes had to put her fleeing slaves back on a trainbound for the south just to elude her pursuers. How she once bought acouple of live chickens to use as a decoy to save herself and herpassengers from harm. How she loved to escape on the first leg of herjourney in a horse and carriage, knowing that most slave owners could notimagine that their slaves would be so bold.
When she found her own freedom, she never forgot where she came fromand she went back time and time again to lead others to freedom as well.But we know her service did not end with the Civil War. Unable to readherself, she raised money for black schools in the South for freed slaves.Childless herself, she cared deeply about the plight of newly freed blackchildren and raised money for their clothing. Once torn from her own home,she spent the last years of her life establishing this home for others --the old, the poor, the destitute. She spoke for all of them, and today shecontinues to speak to all of us. Because above all, Harriet Tubman is asymbol of the enduring story of this nation.
As we celebrate a fantastic time in history and as we recognize howfortunate we are to live at the turn of the century and the turn of themillennium, we have much to be grateful for and many blessings to count.But we should be hearing the voice of Harriet Tubman in our ears. We tooshould think about how best to educate our children, how best to ensurethat every child, black and white, rich and poor, boy and girl, has achance to pursue his or her own American dream.
We should recommit ourselves to the dream that kept Harriet Tubmanmoving north through all those dangers and perils. A dream that Americareally was one nation that was united by our vision of a free and equalsociety. And we should celebrate our diversity and reach across thebarriers that divide us to make sure that we are always one America. Nomatter what our race, or religion, or background, we are all bound togetherby a common strand to this story of freedom. And when we stand together,we become greater than the sum of our many different parts.
The link that Harriet Tubman has to all of us was brought home to mein a very personal way the other day. One of the young women working onthis tour for me is named Stephanie Jones. When she came to this house toprepare for our visit, she was amazed to see on the wall a picture of herrelatives. Unbeknownst to her, it turns out, they had been caretakers ofthis house during the 1950's, confirming once again that no matter who weare or where we come from, we are all linked together and we are all tiedto our past.
Unfortunately, the documentation and artifacts and other tangibleartifacts that will continue to remind us of Harriet Tubman's life andaccomplishments are not still with us in the numbers that they need to be.They don't match the power of her legacy. That is one of the reasons Icame here, to raise awareness throughout our nation of this very specialsite. And to perhaps encourage Americans across our country to think ofcontributing to making this site what it can be.
That is why I am very pleased today to announce a gift from a longtime Civil Rights activist, a gift given in honor of another very greatAfrican American woman, Marian Wright Edelman--the director of theChildren's Defense Fund--whose most revered heroine has always been HarrietTubman, and this gift from a woman named Bitsey Folger, from Washington DC,is for 10,000 dollars for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.Ms. Folger's gift will go for the restoration of this Harriet Tubman homeand site. And she hopes, and I do as well, that it will be matched by smallgifts and large, from pennies from kindergarten children to gifts fromcorporate boardrooms, that will enable this site to represent to all to uswhat it should.
The reason we want to preserve historic sites and artifacts is notjust to have a tourist attraction, although that is very important, thatwill create jobs and economic opportunities for people who will come here,but it is to make sure that the story of Harriet Tubman and the undergroundrailroad will always live in the minds and hearts of Americans. I knowthis community is coming together for that purpose. Because we have agreat challenge not only to preserve this site but to preserve her spirit.And rekindle her passion for justice and freedom in every generation.
Harriet Tubman's motto was simple: "Keep going." Now that is a mottothat all of us can use from day to day. Isn't it? As she would leadslaves through the dark and often treacherous path to freedom, she wouldsay, "Children if you are tired, keep going; if you are scared, keepgoing; if you are hungry, keep going; if you want to taste freedom, keepgoing."
Well luckily for us, we in this crowd are fortunate, we are free. Nowwe may be a little tired from time to time. But we are free. How will weuse our freedom? Will we.....it away in pursuit of pleasure and justliving from day to day -- not for a cause as the Reverend says -- but justbecause. Or will we attach ourselves to some greater mission, theeducation of our children, their well-being an understanding of how we areall bound together so that we can build a united and strong and confidentAmerica in the future.
I'm betting that we're all ready to keep going. Keep going on behalfof our families; keep going on behalf of our communities; keep going onbehalf of our country. And if we do keep going it will be because ofpeople who helped us along the way before. Each one of us can probablythink of a personal friend or relative or employer or teacher or creaturewho helped us keep going. And each one of us can pass our mind back tosome one in history whose inspiration and example can help us keep going.
This Save America's Treasures Tour is not just about the past, it isindeed to help all of us think of ways to honor the past, but the purposeof that is so that we can better imagine the future. The kind of futurethat will offer opportunities and dreams to all children. And that willprovide the kind of society that will assist all of us in understandingwhat we must do to prepare ourselves to fulfill those dreams.
So as we stand and sit here together on this beautiful, hot, Julyafternoon, I cannot think of a better message to spread through communitiesto convey to our children as we come together to meet the challenges oftomorrow, than to "keep going" like Harriet Tubman; and her spirit, likethe north star, will guide us forward.
Thank you all very much and God bless you.
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