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The tree branch snaked around nearly the entire interior of the Albany Barn’s second floor.
The artificial limb was leafed with visual displays of crucial legal cases, notable social events, and important political moments marking the history of civil rights in the United States. The branch hemmed in board games themed around the plight of African American enslaved people and sculptures signifying oppression and freedom.
Viewers wrote inspiring words on paper leaves and attached them to branches of another tree in an interactive display that was part of the Harriet Tubman Anniversary Pop-Up Exhibit—two days of art and performances that commemorated the 170th anniversary of Tubman’s escape from slavery and marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first African captives in North America—at the Albany Barn on Nov. 22 and 23.
Albany Law School students Shellee Daniel, Theresa Hotte, Pablo Jimenez, Charlene Joseph, Mahi-Noor Khalid, Alicia Landis, Jonah Levitan, James Martin, Georgia Sackey, Colleen VanAnden, and Symone Wango—all in this fall’s Race, Rape Culture, and the Law Seminar—conducted extensive historical research about Tubman’s life and times to support the tree project.
The group then worked on the pop-up exhibit with classmates from the University at Albany, sculptures and board-game designers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and members of Albany’s Underground Railroad Project to honor Tubman’s life and legacy.
“Being part of an event that highlights someone as monumental as Harriet Tubman is nothing short of inspiring. Harriet Tubman was a powerhouse. Her sacrifice changed the trajectory of American history,” said Sackey, Class of 2020, who is in the seminar class and is president of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA).
“Harriet Tubman was a beacon of resilience and an agent of change. As a law student and future advocate, these are qualities I strive to embody,” she added. “Events of this kind are important to my Albany Law experience because they represent decades and centuries of American law—the good, the bad, and the ugly—-which all law students need to learn about and from.”
Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland in 1822. She escaped to Philadelphia in 1849, returned to rescue her family, and then eventually guided dozens of other enslaved people to freedom. During the Civil War, Tubman worked for the Union Army as a cook, nurse, armed scout, and spy. She died in 1913 in Auburn, N.Y., and has become an icon of courage and freedom.
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“Harriet Tubman's legacy teaches us that no matter how far we may get in life, we should always reach back to help our fellow brothers and sisters to progress as well,” said Daniel, Class of 2021, who is vice president of Albany Law School’s BLSA chapter. “Events like this show the importance of fighting for an actual cause. As lawyers, we are called on to be advocates for all people, especially those who are underappreciated and underrepresented. Tubman fought ‘as long as [her] strength lasted,’ and as a future lawyer, I intend to do the same.”
Beyond the timeline, games, and art, the organizers held a panel discussion on Friday with UAlbany Professor Janell Hobson, Albany Law Professor Donna Young, Paul and Liz Stewart of the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region, UAlbany doctoral students Eugene Pae and Kasey Waite, and Jefferson Kielwagen from RPI.
Professors Hobson and Young co-teach the Race, Rape Culture, and the Law Seminar class, which is made up of students from both Albany Law and its affiliate institution UAlbany.
“Our students have been passionate about this work this semester, which is exactly what is needed when it comes to studying and practicing law. The project has reinforced the importance of examining how slavery has influenced much of today’s legal landscape,” said Young, who is the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy at Albany Law School and a joint faculty member in UAlbany’s department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). Her teaching and scholarship focuses on law and inequality, race and gender discrimination, and academic freedom and campus politics.
“All we had to do was harness the creativity and drive of the students to help make this event such a success,” added Professor Hobson, chair of UAlbany’s WGSS department. “Harriet Tubman inspired our students and our students inspired us.”