It’s been 105 years since Harriet Tubman dies, but a movement continues to grow to honor the icon who risked her life to free other people of color. Sometimes it’s cold or sometimes it’s raining, ever snowing, but Black women and girls in various communities across the country have been walking since 2013 for 100 miles for two reasons: for their health and to honor Tubman, reports NBC News. For most, GirlTrek takes five days, and when it’s finished the women and young ladies are weary and often have aching legs and feet. But, the participants say, it’s worth it.
GirlTrek has mobilized thousands of women in places such as Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Michigan to walk 1oo miles on a journey that’s been dubbed #Harriet’sGreatEscape. Tubman, herself once a slave, escaped from bondage and then went back many times to rescue other slaves and lead them into freedom. “We realized that we can’t just talk the talk,” said the organization’s co-founder, T. Morgan Dixon. “Harriet Tubman saved her own life first and then went back, time after time, to save the lives of others giving us the blueprint for the work we do today. This is radical self help at its core.”
The walk began on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where Araminta Ross (who became Tubman after marriage) was born in 1822 on a Dorchester County farm. After escaping bondage in 1849 while in her late 20s, historians say the woman known as the “Moses” of her people, returned multiple times to Maryland to shepherd relatives and other African-Americans to freedom in the North via the Underground Railroad. “Harriet overcame numerous obstacles,” said Dana Paterra, manager of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park. The park opened last year in Maryland and is operated in tandem with the National Park Service. The 17-acre site has already drawn some 100,000 tourists from around the world, reports NBC News. “We were excited about the women walking,” Paterra said of GirlTrek. “Our rangers and team came out to cheer them on. They’re inspiring.”
Buoyed by Tubman’s legacy, the women of GirlTrek followed a mapped out path along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, a drivable route, which runs through both Maryland and Delaware. The walkers covered nearly 20 miles daily — sometimes along busy highways — staying overnight at local motels. Despite being physically and mentally challenged every step of the way, participants — who hailed from across the country – told NBC BLK that Tubman’s inspiration and their faith kept them going. “Everyone’s feet are aching, we’re sore, but we made it,” said GirlTrek spokeswoman Jewel Bush. “We met so many amazing people along the way. They honked their horns, cheered, pulled over to give us hugs. One older white gentleman, who heard about our walk on a Christian radio station, brought us bottled water from his truck. It was touching.” Added GirlTrek co-founder Vanessa Garrison, “Now, it is even more important that [we] work to re-establish walking as a healing tradition. We believe that, as women, we are going to have to also liberate, one, ourselves and then come back and be examples and liberate our families. If Harriet Tubman could walk herself to freedom, we can certainly walk ourselves to better health.”