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Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman (Handout photo)

The Senate passed legislation Friday creating a national park on the Eastern Shore honoring Harriet Tubman, the famed "conductor" of the Underground Railroad who helped slaves flee to freedom before the Civil War. The measure now goes to President Barack Obama for signature, since it passed the House last week.

The designation of a Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Maryland was included in a sweeping expansion of the national park system that was attached to an unrelated defense spending bill. The measure authorizes the National Park Service to acquire 775 acres in Talbot County,2,200 in Caroline County and 2,295 in Dorchester County. Those lands include Tubman's likely birthplace, the plantation where she worked as a young girl and the plantation from which she escaped slavery at age 27 in 1849. She returned to Dorchester and Caroline counties multiple times over the next decade to help other slaves escape.

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The legislation also establishes a Tubman national park in Auburn, N.Y., where Tubman later moved. The parks are the first to honor an African-American woman.

"More than one hundred years after her death, we are properly honoring the legacy of this remarkable woman's life, work, and contributions to our nation's history," said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. "This is a great day for the Eastern Shore and our country." Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., likewise called it a fitting tribute and hailed the legislation's bipartisan support. Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican who represents the Shore, had supported it in the House.

The congressional action comes a year after President Obama set aside 480 acres on the Shore as a national monument honoring Tubman. Maryland also acquired 17 acres south of Cambridge in 2007 for a state park honoring Tubman. The state park visitor's center is scheduled to open next year.

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