CAMBRIDGE — Harriet Tubman’s great-great-great niece, Ernestine “Tina” Martin Wyatt, spoke of faith, religion and what her famed ancestor’s legacy means to her during the 10th annual Underground Railroad Conference, Friday, May 31.
The theme of this year’s conference, which began Friday and finished up Saturday, June 1, was “It Ran on Faith.”
Wyatt dissected the theme’s title, saying it reminded her of a journey.
“When you run, you are moving toward something and you’re leaving something behind,” she said. “This implies a journey. The Underground Railroad was a type of journey. And that’s what faith is: a journey.”
Aunt Harriet, as Wyatt called her, understood that, like faith, “a journey could have lows and highs, [and] uncertainty about the outcome.”
Even though faith can lead people in different directions, she said, they’re “bound to see the promises of God as long as [they] stay the course.”
Wyatt gave an example of Tubman’s strong relationship with God, recounting the abolitionist’s experience leading slaves through “tumbling” water crossings.
“They didn’t want to drown,” she said. “But Aunt Harriet waded out believing God would take care of her and not let her drown, getting them across to the other side.”
Wyatt also took the opportunity to debunk some myths about her aunt, denying the attribution of certain quotes to Tubman, like “I have freed thousands of slaves and I would have freed more had they known.”
That quote, according to Wyatt, was erroneously attributed to Tubman because “if you think about her character, she would not have said anything like that anyway.”
“She felt like she needed to be free and so did everybody else,” Wyatt continued. “[And] she had so many [quotes] that are powerful that I don’t know why they had to make up things.”
Wyatt, who lives in Washington, D.C., does not speak publicly often, with the exception of this annual conference, according to event organizers.
Additional presentations during the two-day conference included information sessions about underground operatives, issues concerning the slave trade, two maroon communities in the United States, slave cemeteries and more.
More than 18 presenters shared topics ranging from faith and leadership to the history that led to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park.
Karsonya Wise Whitehead of Loyola University was Saturday morning’s keynote speaker with “They Called Her Moses: Harriet Tubman and the Sustaining Power of Faith.”
The conference’s co-manager, Ellen Mousin, said she expected about 120 people to attend throughout the weekend, with both first-time and returning attendees.
Mousin said she’s been pleasantly surprised with the popularity of the conference over the last 10 years, admitting she “didn’t even think it’d go more than three years.”
As for the event’s future, she said she enjoys organizing the conference and is “not ready to let it go.”
The event was sponsored by the Harriet Tubman Organization and the Dorchester County Historical Society.