Momentum for new Tubman museum builds

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Interest grows in projects to honor a heroic Dorchester County, Maryland native.

There is a growing chorus of voices who think there ought to be a new museum here in Dorchester, where Tubman was born, to house artifacts associated with the Underground Railroad heroine, Civil War spy and nurse.

"We realize the value of Harriet Tubman now - people have opened their eyes and can see her importance," said Kay McKelvey, a retired teacher who runs an after-school mentoring program in Hurlock that she named for Tubman. "But we still don't have a school or a street named for her," she said, saying Tubman needs "official recognition."

State and local tourism officials say they are considering possible sites for a visitors' center that could double as a local Tubman museum. "The need for this kind of facility has grown exponentially," said Marcie Ross of Maryland's Office of Tourism. "It's still very much in the discussion stage, but we are considering some sort of major interpretive/education center focused on Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad."

As interest in Tubman grows, a headquarters/museum in downtown Cambridge, operated for more than 20 years by local volunteers known as the Harriet Tubman Organization, appears inadequate.

It lacks amenities such as computer access for visitors and security for artifacts and displays. The building's heating system has been out of commission lately, and a leaky roof is due for replacement soon. Volunteers aren't always available to lead guided tours when out-of-towners call.

Evelyn Townsend, a retired schoolteacher and principal who has led the organization for more than two decades, supports a modern facility to better serve visitors. Tubman's legacy, Townsend says, is big enough to accommodate this new surge of interest without displacing longtime volunteers.

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