AUBURN — Annabella Vargas-Figueroa read a book passage about iconic abolitionist Harriet Tubman to the famous former Auburn resident's great-great grandniece.
Annabella, 8, read a section of "She Persisted," an illustrated children's book about different women who impacted the world, that focuses on Tubman to Tubman's relative Pauline Copes Johnson at the visitor center of the Harriet Tubman Home Saturday.
Annabella was one of a group of around 30 people who visited the home as a part of a tour with the New York Poor People's Campaign, part of a national effort to address issues such as poverty, systemic racism, the war economy and ecological destruction while embracing diverse groups of people. The Rev. Emily McNeill, executive director for the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, said the tour through various parts of the state was on day three of four. McNeill said the group had been visiting sites connected to the abolitionist movement. To keep a social movement successful, she said, people must learn from the past and efforts regarding these same issues from the past.
McNeill said the campaign's purpose is to "unite and organize the poor and disposed all across the country" and to "make sure we're bringing people all across the different lines that have been used to divide people."
The Rev. Michael Bell, senior pastor for the Fredrick Douglass African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Elmira, said the tour is meant to help the people on it understand the complexities of the issues that hit people across the state and the nation while also realizing that those problems are not divorced from one another. He said it is important for people to be educated on the issues and get to the point where they are ready to take on the issues.
Copes Johnson talked about Tubman's efforts freeing black slaves and about projected slide images such as various buildings where Tubman "would plan her trips to and from the South." At one point, McNeill asked Copes Johnson about how Auburn recognizes Harriet Tubman and if her history is something "the community really knows about and values compared to your memory of the town." Copes Johnson said she did not learn about "Aunt Harriet" while she was in school, but she feels honored to have been "trying to help Aunt Harriet and her legacy" since she was in high school.
"Now they have started talking about Aunt Harriet and taking pictures of her and putting portraits downtown and all that kind of stuff," Copes Johnson said. "I wonder why they didn't do this years ago?" she said.
Annabella's mother, Arelis Figueroa, who lives in New York City with her daughter, said she wanted to see how poverty is reflected in upstate and downstate.
"We're having the same issues, maybe manifesting in different ways," she said.