The institution—named The Harriet Tubman Museum—is being constructed in the heart of Cape May, New Jersey. Tubman, who risked her life in pursuit of the freedom of hundreds of slaves, has deep ties to the city. She worked there in hotels and as a cook and used the money that she earned to travel to the South to lead hundreds of enslaved people to freedom along the Underground Railroad. “Few people know the role that Cape May played in her efforts,” wrote historian Barbara Dreyfuss. “It was here in Cape May that Tubman earned some of the money critical to carry out her rescues.” Tubman’s niece’s great-granddaughter settled in the Cape May area.
The museum will feature a wide range of items that are connected to the Underground Railroad as well as pieces of work created by Black artists. It will also delve into the history of the Black community in Cape May. During the 1920s there were several Black-owned businesses in the city’s Lafayette Street area. There was also an opera house that housed an African American United Service Organization during WWII. The Cape May community rallied together and raised $150,000 for the creation of the museum. The money will be put towards the $500,000 fundraising goal. An additional $100,000 worth of gifts in kind has been raised. Local hardware and construction businesses have offered their services.
The museum—which will open on Juneteenth—will live next door to the historic Macedonia Baptist Church. Locals are excited to see the city’s rich Black history brought to the forefront. “It’s like a light’s been switched on in Cape May,” Emily Dempsey, the owner of an antique shop that has been in her family for generations, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I know my grandmother had stories of Harriet Tubman, but you don’t talk too openly about a person who had a bounty on her head. We thought this history was lost. Now, we’re learning about our ancestors.”
Developments surrounding the project comes on the heels of the release of the film Harriet starring Cynthia Erivo.