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LOCAL HISTORY

AG signs agreement needed to formally establish Harriet Tubman park in Auburn

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031116-news-Tubman

The Harriet Tubman Home and administrative building is part of the 26 acre property that will be included in the Harriet Tubman National Park.

A major hurdle has been cleared in the process of formally establishing the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn. 

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed a general agreement Friday which allows the transfer of land between Harriet Tubman Home, Inc. and the National Park Service. 

Under terms of the accord, the National Park Service will acquire the historic Thompson Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church on Parker Street. The two sides will then jointly operate the South Street property where Tubman's former residence and the Home for the Aged are located. 

The agreement was needed before the park was established. The National Park Service is required to have at least a share of the property before the unit is added to the national park system. 

"This is good," said Karen Hill, executive director of the Harriet Tubman Home. "This is really, really good." 

Cayuga County's federal representatives hailed the signing of the general agreement, which came two days after the U.S. Treasury announced that Tubman would become the new face of the $20 bill

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said "we hit two grand slams for Tubman" this week. 

"Being on the $20 bill and now having the national park in her honor and focused on Auburn," he said in a phone interview. "Auburn is sort of the center of national attention today." 

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who with Schumer pushed for the establishment of the park, called Tubman a "remarkable American hero." 

"The Harriet Tubman residence showcases the life of an icon and agent of social change who altered the face of our nation for future generations," she said in a a statement. "This designation would be another national highlight of New York's rich history and would strengthen our commitment to preserving our landmarks." 

U.S. Rep. John Katko, along with the state's U.S. senators, urged Lynch to sign the agreement. He sent a letter to the attorney general last week asking her to quickly approve the pact

The Department of Justice spent four months reviewing the agreement — a requirement since it involves the A.M.E. Zion Church, which owns the Parker and South street properties in Auburn. 

"I applaud Attorney General Lynch for approving this agreement to recognize the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn as a national park," Katko, R-Camillus, said in a statement.

"Coupled with this week's announcement that the U.S. Treasury will place Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, our region is poised to see great boosts in our tourism-based economy as we honor the life and legacy of a remarkable American leader." 

The agreement must be signed by the Harriet Tubman Home — Hill said they'll sign it — and it will go to the state attorney general's office for review. 

Because the transfer involves a non-profit organization, it must be evaluated by the state attorney general's office. 

Michael Caldwell, the National Park Service's Northeast regional director, appeared at the Wednesday Morning Roundtable in Auburn last month and explained the next steps in the park establishment process. 

Once the land agreement is in place, a ceremony will be held in Washington D.C. to formally establish the park. Local officials hope to have a smaller ceremony in Auburn. 

Schumer said the park could open by the end of the year. 

The general agreement was signed roughly 16 months after Congress approved legislation — the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act — which included a provision creating the Tubman park in Auburn and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Maryland. 

President Barack Obama signed the bill in December 2014

The achievement was years in the making. Cayuga County's representatives had long pushed for passage of the Tubman parks legislation, but it didn't receive votes in both houses until it was included in the 2015 NDAA. 

"It's been a long crusade," Schumer said. "When I first met with the folks there and they said 'This is a dream. We don't know if it's doable, but it's a dream.' And it's become reality." 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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