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Since the New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center opened in November, the most-played song in its audiovisual catalog has been "Oh, Harriet the Brave."

Recorded by fifth-graders at Genesee Elementary School, the song honors abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who lived the second half of her life two miles down South Street.

"I think we all sing it in our sleep because we hear it so many times a day," said Courtney Kasper, the Auburn center's visitor experience manager. "It makes everyone happy and smile."

So as the center approached its first Harriet Tubman Day on Sunday, Kasper knew a live performance of the song had to be arranged. March being Music in Our Schools Month sealed it, she said.

In addition to the Genesee Elementary student performance, the inaugural Harriet Tubman Day celebration at the center will feature remarks by Tubman scholar Dr. Kate Clifford Larson, author of "Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero." Also on the program are music educators Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino, who comprise the folk duo Magpie and guided Genesee Elementary's students through the Tubman music program. That program was part of the "Harriet Was Here, In My Backyard: Geographies of Slavery and Freedom" project, whose creator, Martha Swan, will also attend the celebration. Guests in attendance will include Pauline Copes Johnson, Tubman's great-great-grandniece, and the emcee will be Jennifer Sanders of NewsChannel 9.

Though the program takes place from noon to 2 p.m., a selection of local artisans selling Tubman-themed commemorative items will be at the center all day, Kasper said. Participants include artist Sandra Shutter, #InOurWordsApparel, Auburn chocolate and coffee shop Gretchen's Confections, and Skaneateles food truck Potatoes & Molasses.

Kasper said the center began talking about its Harriet Tubman Day plans as soon as the doors opened to the public. The celebration takes place concurrently with Harriet Tubman Day tours at the Seward House Museum and the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, as well as a Harriet Tubman Day MLK Jam at Auburn Public Theater that evening.

Commemorating the day of the Underground Railroad conductor and Civil War spy's death in 1913, Harriet Tubman Day was proclaimed by President George H.W. Bush in March 1990. In New York state, the holiday was made official in 2003. Maryland, where Tubman was born, has observed the Harriet Ross Tubman Day of Remembrance since 2000, and this month marks the second anniversary of the opening of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in that state. Along with recent efforts to make the abolitionist the new face of the $20 bill and the Cynthia Erivo movie about her due later in 2019, almost every conceivable circumstance came together to make the Auburn center's inaugural Harriet Tubman Day a special one, Kasper said.

"We're trying to make it a collective day of celebration between Tubman's birth and resting places," she said. "The city of Auburn really wants to give her the recognition that's truly deserved."

Also happening

• Harriet Tubman Day will also be observed Sunday, March 10, at the Seward House Museum, 33 South St., and the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, 180 South St., Auburn. The Seward House will be open from 1 to 5 p.m., with tours beginning on the hour until 4 p.m. for a discounted admission rate of $5 for adults and free for children younger than 6. A National Park Service ranger will be at the Tubman park to give guided walking tours of the property, which includes the visitor center, Home for the Aged and brick residence where Tubman lived with her family until her death. For more information, call the museum at (315) 252-1283 or the park at (315) 882-8060.

• At 7 p.m. that day, Auburn Public Theater will host the Harriet Tubman Day MLK Jam. Hosted by MC John McLeod and organized by Celebrate! Diverse Auburn, the open-mic-style event will feature music and welcome guests to share their words. It was originally scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day but was delayed due to weather. Admission is free and open to the public at the theater, 8 Exchange St., Auburn. For more information, visit or call (315) 253-6669.

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Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


Features editor for The Citizen.