A day before the holiday in which America celebrates freedom, Syracuse and Onondaga County leaders are celebrating another icon of freedom – Harriet Tubman. They announced winners of the National Harriet Tubman Freedom awards. Sean McLeod is with the New York Institute of Dance and executive Producer of the awards.
“And what better icon do we have in our country to represent freedom. The concept of what that struggle movement looked like, and the fact that Central New York was central in that freedom movement, is very significant.”
He says the awards are given to those who fought selflessly to help others – just like Tubman. Local winners include the Reverend Bernard Alex, Eli Smith and Juhanna Rogers.
McLeod praised Mayor Ben Walsh and County Executive Ryan McMahon for working for inclusion. McMahon says the city and county are committed to praising the contributions of all the community.
“And what we always say is, ‘what makes us different in Syracuse is we accept people from all backgrounds and all different cultures and all different walks of life. And that makes us interesting. That makes us something to be proud of; it’s nothing to fear.”
They recalled Syracuse’s history in the abolitionist movement ... and as a weigh station for many on the Underground Railroad. McMahon recouts a story from the city’s past when slavery was still legal in the south, as the north was divided.
“The Mayor in the City of Syracuse at the time actually told the New York City Railroad that ‘we will pull your franchise if you continue to send back residents who came here from slavery, back to the south.’ And that actually had a huge impact.”
The city and county will help produce The Harriet Tubman Music Festival in Auburn July 13th, at which the Freedom Award honorees will be given their awards.
The music festival is part of a larger “Celebration of What it Means to Be Free” at the New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center … on the site of Tubman’s Central New York home.