A Harriet Tubman picture book sat untouched on a shelf in Linda Harris’s home in Prince George’s County for nearly three decades, gathering dust.
Her father gave her the book — “Runaway Slave: The Story of Harriet Tubman” — when she was a child, to educate her about her African American heritage. She had a sudden desire to read it in May after George Floyd was killed in police custody during an arrest in Minneapolis.
The children’s book, published in 1965, chronicles Harriet Tubman’s heroic missions leading dozens of enslaved people to freedom between 1850 and 1860 through a network of secret passages and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.
When Harris read it anew, the decades-old picture book left a profound impression on her.
“I felt like my freedoms had been taken away, with the pandemic and the social injustice,” said Harris, 65, who lives in Mitchellville. “The book was the impetus to do something, to act.”
She decided to visit Tubman’s birthplace, driving to the Harriet Tubman Museum and Education Center in Dorchester County, Md. She spoke with local historians there, who shared insights on Tubman’s life, first when she was enslaved, then as an Underground Railroad guide called a “conductor” and, finally, as a civil rights luminary and champion of the women’s suffrage movement.
Harris got an idea: She wanted to retrace Tubman’s footsteps along the Underground Railroad, traveling by foot from Cambridge, Md., to Kennett Square, Pa. — totaling roughly 116 miles.
“I wanted to emulate her path,” Harris said.
But she didn’t want to do it alone. Harris hoped to find others who were also seeking a connection to this era of history during a period of racial unrest. She shared her mission on various Facebook pages, including GirlTrek and Outdoor Afro — organizations aimed at connecting people of color with others to engage in physical activities.
Harris formed a group of eight women who were otherwise strangers, ranging in age from 38 to 65. The women, who all live in the D.C. area, spent every Saturday in the spring and summer training together.
“We had to learn to walk long distances and build our endurance,” said Harris, adding that the women bonded early on.
“We are definitely sisters,” said Pauline Heard-Dunn, 57. “Our walks gave me something to look forward to. They gave me a sense of purpose, and it felt like a way to connect with my ancestors.”
“My friendship with these women is everlasting,” echoed Kim Smith, 56. “There’s a magnetic energy amongst