Can you imagine a time when the country is celebrating Harriet Tubman Day? If Jeannine Cook gets her way, it could be a reality. Cook has been interested in the life of the well-known abolitionist since learning about her as a child. She was impressed by her accomplishments, including leading several enslaved Blacks to freedom, working as a nurse and spy in the Union Army, and being an outspoken advocate for women’s rights. And she did it all while suffering from seizures caused by an injury that was the result of being hit in the head with a weight by a slave master.
“It’s the multifacetedness of Harriet that I find so extraordinary,” Cook said. “There were so many ways she, I believe, exemplifies how to take the worst of what society has offered and to transmute that into an immense amount of power — not for yourself, but for the people around you.”
Cook’s business, Harriet’s Bookshop in Philadelphia, is named after Tubman and sells books by women writers. And she has started a campaign to make Tubman the first American woman with her own federal holiday. So far, Cook has generated a petition which has nearly 8,000 signatures. She also shares postcards with her bookstore customers they can use to write their representatives about the issue. Her efforts caught the attention of Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA), who introduced a bill in the House that would make Harriet Tubman Day a federal holiday. The closest the country ever got was in 1990 when Congress passed a joint resolution to designate March 10, Harriet Tubman Day. But the day was not recognized as a federal holiday.
Even though Tubman doesn’t have a federal holiday, there have been other efforts to honor her extraordinary achievements. In 2013, President Barack Obama established the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument and National Historical Park in Maryland. In 2017, the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park opened in Auburn, New York. And Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told The Washington Post that Tubman’s likeness will appear on the bill in 2030 once the anti-counterfeiting technology has been updated and other steps necessary to design and produce new currency have been implemented.
Cook hopes Harriet Tubman Day will eventually become a reality and that it will be a time for people to reflect on the impact slavery had on our country. “It could be a day that supports us with how to mourn the tragedy that slavery was and how to focus on repairing that harm,” Cook said.