AUBURN | Fort Hill Cemetery isn't usually a place for celebrations.
But one day before the 100th anniversary of Harriet Tubman's death, praise-filled songs, inspiring speeches and heartfelt prayers echoed across the historic graveyard, filling the quiet cemetery with unusual warmth.
Nearly 30 people gathered in front of the original Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church early Saturday morning, congregating in front of the church where the lauded abolitionist worshiped and practiced her faith. After sharing a prayer, the group — made up of Tubman's relatives and supportive community members — formed a caravan of cars and drove to Fort Hill Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony.
The Rev. Phillip Windsor, pastor of Auburn's Westminster Presbyterian Church, started off the ceremony with an invocation praising Tubman's bravery.
"We pause to remember her suffering at the hands of cruel people who considered her nothing more than their property," he said. "We honor her today, 100 years after her death."
Following a responsive reading led by the Rev. Paul Carter, of the Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church, Jeffery Kingsley sang "Amazing Grace."
Kingsley's impassioned solo rose clearly above a mild winter wind, enticing attendees to add their voices to the song.
The Rev. JoAnne M. Terrell, who traveled to Auburn from Chicago this weekend to commemorate Tubman's life, thanked God for Tubman.
"You gave us Tubman to go before us, to be an example of love in action," she said, "You have us each other ... to do your work in the world — the work of loving the world into wholeness."
After placing a wreath colored with red, white and blue flowers on Tubman's grave, Carter reminded attendees to live with the civil rights activist's many good deeds in mind, to remember that Tubman was willing to give all she had to help those in need.
"There are so many people who are not willing to give what it takes," he said.
With the wreath brightening the snow-covered ground surrounding Tubman's grave, Jerry Orton, a Civil War re-enactor from Camillus, gave Tubman a military, one-gun salute in honor of the woman who, in her 93 years of life, served as a spy for the Union and a nurse who cared for wounded soldiers.
And before the audience headed back to the warmth of their vehicles, Karen V. Hill, president and CEO of the Harriet Tubman Home, invited the attendees to remember that Tubman died just after her fellow suffragists marched for equality in Washington, D.C.
"Harriet was able to go to rest knowing this would continue," she said, brushing a tear off her cheek. "We can never do enough to honor Harriet."