Tiny Museum Commemorates Harriet Tubman

Dec 7, 2017

On an out-of-the-way street corner in Harrisonburg, a tiny building commemorates a legend of American history, and represents the struggle to heal the nation’s racial divide.  WMRA’s Mike Dolzer reports.

Sound of footsteps

When you walk into the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center on Lucy Drive, you realize just how much history can be crammed into a tiny space, even if it’s the size of a one-car garage.

STAN MACLIN: This building may be little but it’s got a lot of power packed in it.

The center is filled with images of Tubman, posters depicting slavery, and it even includes a video about Southern plantation life. Owner and founder Stan Maclin provides tours by appointment for people who want to learn more about the abolitionist, humanitarian and U.S. Army spy. 

Maclin opened the center in March 2010 as a means of keeping Tubman’s legacy alive. He works with more than 30 other members, many of whom are his family members, to plan future projects for the center. He describes the center as a ministry, business venture and cultural learning center with the aim of educating others about the ugly scars of America’s origins.

MACLIN: America’s original sin is that America was founded as a white society upon the near genocide of one race and the enslavement and kidnap of another.

Maclin was also one of the proponents of the renaming of Cantrell Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Way, which was approved by the Harrisonburg City Council in 2013.

Maclin also teaches a class in conjunction with the commonwealth’s attorney at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County jail. The class focuses on empowerment and reentry after incarceration.

MACLIN: We try to help people where we can to realize that they can make a difference in their life and in society.

Maclin sees some troubling parallels between modern day jails and the system of slavery.

MACLIN: Slavery confined people who were basically brought here for economic purposes and incarceration is the same situation, it’s becoming a business, the business of warehousing the mentally ill and the addicted.

Maclin has also been disturbed by the political climate lately, and seeing old wounds of racism get torn open again, most notably in Charlottesville in August. Maclin attributes the violence to people getting heritage and history mixed up with hatred, and has noticed some of that hatred make its way to his center, as some people have vandalized the property.

MACLIN:  They’ve stolen signs, and have broken glass, and came in the parking lot and done things that is an ongoing process, to the extent where I’m forced to get security cameras.

Aside from the vandalism and theft, the center has also been beleaguered by construction problems.  The center was in the back of a brick office complex on North High Street until late last year when Maclin got some news.

MACLIN: The owner came and said that we have a month to vacate because he sold the building which forced me to have to look for a new location and facility. I immediately went into prayer, I did not know where to go.

Maclin eventually found the current Lucy Drive location, but has still encountered problems with construction, with the land being developed for potential commercial property.

Construction noises

MACLIN: Feel like my life is under construction [laughs] literally. We were aware that they were going to do some road construction and just take some of the yardage, but I didn’t know it was going to be to this degree.

Despite the noise and disruption, Maclin is still keeping the center thriving and expanding. He plans to add outdoor exhibits including a slave auction block, and is seeking new members to join him and the others as they fight to remember the legacy of Harriet Tubman.

MACLIN: I’m a firm believer that good will always overcome evil and love will always overcome hate. That’s what Harriet Tubman done and that’s what I’m committed and dedicated to do as long as I have breath in my body. And so I want to spend my legacy challenging and raising up and empowering others to do likewise.