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Museum honoring Harriet Tubman and her legacy opens on Juneteenth

The museum is located in the New Jersey seaside resort town of Cape May, where Tubman had a strong connection.
Governor Phil Murphy attends the ribbon cutting for the Harriet Tubman Museum
Governor Phil Murphy, center, attends the ribbon cutting for the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cape May, New Jersey on Sept. 17th, 2020.Edwin J. Torres / New Jersey Governor's Office
/ Source: TODAY

The long-awaited Harriet Tubman Museum in Cape May, New Jersey is holding its grand opening this Saturday on Juneteenth, after its opening was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's almost unreal. It's so exciting," Lois Smith, a longtime Cape May resident, told NBC affiliate WCAU in Philadelphia, ahead of the museum's opening.

According to the museum's Instagram, Tubman, who escaped slavery herself and became an abolitionist, brought "more than 200 people into freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

"In addition to taking nineteen trips back and forth to free others after freeing herself, Ms. Tubman also bought her own farm in Auburn, New York where she moved her parents after freeing them as well. Ms. Tubman served in the Union Army during the Civil War as a cook, nurse, scout and a spy. She also helped establish the National Association of Colored Women."

The museum that honors this iconic freedom fighter is located in the seaside resort town of Cape May, New Jersey. According to the museum's website, Cape May, in southern New Jersey, was an important link between the Northern states and Southern states at the time. Tubman had strong ties to the town, having worked there in the 1850s. She used her earnings to help rescue slaves on the Underground Railroad.

"Very important to let the young people know the struggles that were made for freedom for the African Americans," Hampton Taylor, who is on the board of trustees for the museum, told WCAU.

One of the centerpieces of the museum is a nine-foot tall statue of Tubman pulling a girl to freedom.

The striking statue, by sculptor Wesley Wofford is called "The Journey to Freedom" and was the first piece installed in the museum's collection.

"You look at the eyes, the expression on her face, the hair on the child, the feet, everything is in total detail," Taylor told WCAU. "I've never seen anything like it in my life."

The opening of the museum was delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, even though a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held last September. The museum's curators said the extra time allowed them to make the museum even more informative. Its grand opening on June 19 was timed to coincide with Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.

"The blessing of that time period was we have discovered so much more information about Black history in Cape May and Cape May Point and the role of the abolitionists in this area," Robert Mullock, the museum's trustee board president, told WCAU.

Mullock's daughter, Cynthia Mullock is the museum's executive director and in an email to TODAY, she wrote, "Our hope is that the Harriet Tubman Museum will serve as a model that inspires communities across the nation to preserve endangered spaces important to Black history and our shared American history, amplify underrepresented narratives, and reimagine what it means to live in connection with one another."

"To have this museum open on this day is really ... not a coincidence," Ras Hebron told WCAU. "It's a wonderful juxtaposition of two very important dates."

Juneteenth was signed into federal law earlier this week as a national public holiday by President Joe Biden. Earlier this year, Biden and the Treasury Department also took steps to put Tubman's face on the $20 bill.

This is also not the first time a museum has been named after Tubman. There is a Tubman African American Museum in Macon, Georgia that is dedicated to African American art, culture and history. It opened in 1985.

After Juneteenth, the Harriet Tubman Museum will be open to visitors from Thursdays to Sundays and reservations are highly recommended.