BY Dollita Okine, 3:15pm March 28, 2024,

Gladys Muhammad, the woman who has played Harriet Tubman several times to keep her legacy alive 

Muhammad most recently helped in raising "funds for a commemorative Harriet Tubman statue and bench," which was unveiled in 2022. Photo Credit: NeighborhoodWorks America

Gladys Muhammad, an Indiana native, is working hard to preserve Harriet Tubman’s legacy. Following her early observations of the differences between her community and others, Muhammad commenced her 34-year career with the South Bend Heritage Foundation (SBHF), where she joined as a community organizer in 1987 and began helping in its mission to stabilize and enhance neighborhoods.

She told Essence, “I decided early that the area where my family and friends lived should have the same resources as other areas in the city.” 

Muhammad, despite being retired, continues to volunteer with SBHF regularly. She recently helped to raise “funds for a commemorative Harriet Tubman statue and bench,” which was unveiled in 2022.

After consulting with the team, they chose Howard Park, “a well-known and well-attended park in the city,” as the site for the life-sized interactive statue. The trailblazer stated that she wants people to know that “Black and White citizens did work together to help Black families escape the horrors of slavery,” even though there is no proof that Tubman stopped there herself.

During the ribbon-cutting event, a brief history lesson was given regarding Tubman’s courageous commitment to the Underground Railroad and guiding runaway slaves to freedom. Not only that, but Muhammad herself performed a concert and reenactment for the audience.

“I portray Harriet Tubman to honor her legacy and the Underground Railroad’s ties to Indiana,” she said.

Nevertheless, this was not Muhammad’s first time in Tubman’s shoes. She routinely portrays the abolitionist and Sojourner Truth, an activist and women’s rights pioneer, at school and other events in South Bend.

In the 1840s and 1850s, South Bend “often served as a last stop for the enslaved looking to escape in the Hoosier State,” according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Runaway slaves used South Bend to go northward to freedom with the assistance of local abolitionists like Thomas Bulla and Solomon Palmer.

Community leader Muhammad believes it is crucial for South Bend residents to have a place to go and “contemplate the courage it took to lead people to freedom.”

For her dedication and commitment to upholding Tubman’s legacy, the trailblazer was given NeighborWorks America’s 2023 Dorothy Richardson Award for Resident Leadership.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: March 28, 2024


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