Harriet Tubman photograph

A startling new photograph of Harriet Tubman has been discovered, a portrait of her as a younger woman in her 40s.  When I wrote the young adult biography of Tubman in 1990, the available photos of her were pictures dating from 1894 and an early 1900s photo showing her with white hair, decades past her most active years as an underground railroad conductor and spy in the Civil War.

The new photo has emerged in an album kept by Emily Howland, an abolitionist in upstate New York.  Howland lived in Sherwood, not far from Auburn, where Tubman settled after the Civil War.  Cayuga County was a nest of abolitionists, including William Seward who helped Tubman purchase land there in 1859 for a home she shared with anyone in need.  The new photograph is an 1860s carte de visite, a small (typically 2 1/2″ x 4″) photograph mounted on a calling card handed out to family and friends, which suggests there might be more of the cards in existence.  They were particularly popular among soldiers during the Civil War, as described by Andrea Volpe in an article in The New York Times.  

The discovery of the new photograph was brought to my attention by Grace Bentley, my 98-year-old mother-in-law who lives in upstate New York.

Newport High School orchestra

Newport High School Orchestra Performs Free Boy: Secret Voyage

Tone Poem for Charles Mitchell’s Flight to Freedom on the West’s Underground Railroad

BELLEVUE, Wash. – Newport High School orchestra, the Newport Philharmonic, will be performing the world premiere of “Free Boy: Secret Voyage,” a piece commissioned by award-winning composer Tim Huling, at the All-Northwest Music Educators Conference, on Feb. 17 in Bellevue, WA.

The piece is inspired by the nonfiction book “Free Boy,” written by local authors Lorraine McConaghy and Judith M. Bentley, and was commissioned by the school with support from the Bellevue Schools Foundation and Newport’s PTSA.  The book is about a thirteen-year-old boy who is born into slavery and escapes from the Washington territory to freedom in Canada by way of the West’s underground railroad.

Newport’s orchestra conductor, Christine Gero, decided to embark on this project as part of the school’s music history unit on contemporary music.  The intent is to work with a living composer and create a piece of music with a Pacific Northwest hero as the inspiration for the work.  Gero began the unit by asking how many students have lived somewhere other than Bellevue, and nearly the entire class raised their hands.  Gero herself is also a transplant to the Pacific Northwest, so together she and her students are learning about the Pacific Northwest’s history through the book “Free Boy.”

“In some ways Bellevue is very global,” said Gero.  “A lot of people in the community were not born here, so this has been such a great opportunity for us to learn about this place we live in and its history.”

Throughout the unit, students have met the authors, historians and even gave input to Huling on the composition of the piece.

“To actually see the students getting to interact with historians, authors and a composer and hear not just about the past, but how it plays into the present – and how they are able to take part in that to create something that is hopefully lasting and meaningful – I think that has been exciting for everyone involved,” said Gero.

For more information about the All-Northwest Conference: www.nafmenw.org

For more information or to schedule a visit to see the orchestra rehearse please contact Christina Wilner at (425) 456-4

Walking Washington’s History

 

am working on a new book, a history of Washington told through the history of the state’s major cities.  I’m doing a lot of walking, early in the morning when the homeless are still huddled under blankets on benches, on rainy afternoons when awnings are welcome, and sometimes along a sunny waterfront.  I am visiting museums, historical societies, libraries, and coffee shops, talking to anyone I encounter.
Yesterday, a friend and I roamed Tacoma in the rain, finding solidity among the mists in stone statues.  Here are two with some historical significance.  The lion guards the entrance to Fuzhou Ting, a pavilion given by the city of Fuzhou and built at the Chinese Reconciliation Park on the waterfront east of Old Town.  The park recalls through art and words the expulsion of Chinese from the city once the railroads were completed and their labor was no longer needed.  The Goddess of Commerce is a new statue replacing an older one in the Old City Hall district.  She is replete with the symbols of commerce that have driven Tacoma’s economy, including crane earrings, not the peace cranes but the dock kind.