“Harriet Was Here” is a unique exploration of Harriet Tubman’s remarkable life of activism and service. Harriet Was Here cultivates a deeper understanding and conversation about the complexities of United States history. It unsettles the generalities and simplifications about the North and South’s relationship to slavery. It incorporates Canada’s role as a refuge and home for freedom seekers. It transcends conventional demarcations and encourages students and teachers to weave new stories of slavery and freedom into a common, textured cloth. To date, Harriet Was Here has produced more than 12 original songs. Some of these recordings can be found on exhibit in the New York State Equal Rights and Heritage Center in Auburn, NY.

The Harriet Tubman Singers, with their uber-dedicated teachers Anne Mlod and Cinda Gilmore, in Rochester’s Highland Park for the Frederick Douglass Freedom Festival in 2018. 4th- and 5th-graders from Genesee Elementary School in Auburn performed the song they wrote with Magpie (Greg Artzner and Terry Leonio) during a Harriet Was Here residency.  Their song focused on Harriet and Douglass.

To watch a video of students singing Bridge to Freedom at the Douglass Freedom Festival click here.

To watch a video of Genesee Elementary 4th & 5th graders singing 2019’s Stronger Than You Know click here.

“I am not sure my words can show the amazing impact this program has had on everyone.  I think back to when the program was first introduced, and how compared to then, it has grown thanks to the students, parents, teachers, and Auburn community.   As a teacher it helped me see how creative and exciting teaching can be. The classroom lessons created to go along with this program motivated my students. This project helped our students and parents take pride in their community by sharing the wonderful history that is “literally in their own backyards.”

As a teacher I noticed that when it came time to teach this unit, the students were eager to learn. For a change, learning did not come from textbooks. Instead we were using primary sources and people who were authorities on the subject. The students  were being challenged to question and feel what it was like to live during this time period by putting on their Harriet Tubman”hat” and other “hats.” We were able to incorporate so much into each lesson. The students weren’t just learning history, but perspective, questioning, drawing conclusions and most of all collaboration. 

We saw students that normally were quiet learners become risk takers and find their voice during these lessons. Our parents and the community praised the authentic learning that was taking place.Without the support of the community, the learning still would have taken place, but the students would not have had anyone to share their knowledge with. They were proud of their hard work and eager to share. ”  ~Cinda Gilmore, teacher at Genesee Elementary 

Organizational Partners:  Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, Yale University; The Harriet Tubman Boosters; National Abolition Hall of Fame, Peterboro, NY; National Park Service- Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, Auburn, NY; Skaneateles Arts Council, Skaneateles, NY

Schools that have participated:  Genesee Elementary School, Auburn, NY; Morrisville-Eaton Elementary School in Central NY; Newcomb Central School in the Adirondacks; Sandy Springs Friends School, Sandy Springs, Maryland

Interested in bringing this program to your school?  Email info@johnbrownlives.org for more information.