Harriet Tubman’s Legacy Lives On In Indiana Thanks To This Community Leader

NeighborWorks America

As state public officials across the U.S. have tried to prohibit teaching about Black history, one woman in Indiana is fighting to keep Harriet Tubman’s legacy alive.

Born and raised in Indiana, Gladys Muhammad said she noticed differences between her neighborhood and others early on. “I decided early that the area where my family and friends lived should have the same resources as other areas in the city.” This led to a 34-year-long career working for the South Bend Heritage Foundation (SBHF) helping to revitalize neighborhoods. Nowadays, even though she’s retired, Muhammad still continues to volunteer with SBHF on a daily basis.

One of Muhammad’s mot recent accomplishment was helping to raise “funds for a commemorative Harriet Tubman statue and bench.” She and the team decided on the location for the life-sized, interactive statue’s placement, ultimately landing “on Howard Park, a well-known and well-attended park in the city.” The statue was unveiled in 2022.

While there is no documented evidence that Tubman actually made a stop there herself, Muhammad wants to make sure that people know that “Black and white citizens did work together to help Black families escape the horrors of slavery.”

According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, during the 1840s and 1850s, South Bend “often served as a last stop for the enslaved looking to escape in the Hoosier State. Local abolitionists, including Thomas Bulla and Solomon Palmer, helped runaway slaves travel northward to freedom through South Bend.”

For Muhammad, it was important for South Bend residents to have a space for people to go and “contemplate the courage it took to lead people to freedom.”

At the ribbon cutting ceremony, there was a brief history lesson about “Tubman’s fearless dedication to the underground railroad and leading escaped slaves to freedom.” In addition, attendees were also treated to a concert and reenactment performed by none other than Muhammad, herself.

This wasn’t Muhammad’s first time stepping into Tubman’s shoes—the community leader regularly portrays the abolitionist, in addition to women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, at schools and other events in South Bend.

“I portray Harriet Tubman to honor her legacy and the Underground Railroad’s ties to Indiana,” Muhammad told ESSENCE.

Muhammad was presented with the NeighborWorks America’s 2023 Dorothy Richardson Award for Resident Leadership honoree for her devotion and commitment to preserving Tubman’s legacy.

“Much like Dorothy Richardson and her neighbors, you can leverage resources and build partnerships that make meaningful change for our communities,” says Muhammad.

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