Harriet Tubman’s Church Where She Helped Free Countless Slaves Faces Uncertain Future

Harriet Tubman (extreme left, holding a pan) photographed with a group of slaves whose escape she assisted.

The Canadian church where Harriet Tubman helped free countless slaves on the Underground Railroad is a “sacred site that should be preserved” in Ontario, said one descendant of the Salem Chapel BME Church’s original 200-member congregation.

“The church means everything to me,” said Rochelle Bush, whose forbearer Rev. James Harper was the minister-in-charge when Tubman attended the church in Ontario. “For me, it is an honor to serve the church and to talk about the remarkable people that came before me.”

Built in the mid-1800s, the church earned a place in history with Tubman having guided many African-American freedom seekers as part of her abolitionist efforts, according to the church’s GoFundMe page. The house of worship, erected with financial help from local residents, became more significant when it was “dedicated to the Service of Almighty God.”

The church was a “place to worship, a meeting house for those seeking refuge from slavery and a hub for abolitionist activity,” Bush explained.

Courtesy of GoFundMe.com/Preserving Salem Chapel

The structure has been eroded by weather as well as other natural occurrences during the last 150-plus years. Descendants, including Bush, have been spearheading national historic site restoration efforts in part by setting up the crowdfunding page to essentially keep its history alive.

The church’s “Preserving Salem Chapel fundraising campaign” has a goal to raise a minimum of $100,000 to complete emergency work to begin late in the winter of 2018, Bush said. The restoration plans included cable wire or earthquake straps for the church attic and underneath the sanctuary floor to secure the building. After those repairs, construction work for a new municipal building behind the church will begin.

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SOURCE: NewsOne, Clarissa Hamlin