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Jeannine Cook is leading the national charge to make Harriett Tubman Day a federal holiday. Photo: Twitter- Harriett's Bookshop

Harriett’s Bookshop fights to make Harriett Tubman Day a federal holiday

A letter-writing campaign led by bookshop founder Jeannine Cook has upwards of 9,750 signatures. Congressman Brendan Boyle also introduced a bill.

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Harriet Tubman was an American abolitionist and political activist who escaped enslavement in Maryland and returned to free her family. Over time, she was able to rescue 70 enslaved people over 13 missions, eventually settling in Philadelphia. 

Because of her work she became known as the “Moses of her people.” Tubman also famously spoke at the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church during her time in Philadelphia. 

On Tuesday, Jan. 11, Philadelphia unveiled a statue in Tubman’s honor, meant to celebrate Black History Month, Women’s History Month and the abolitionists’ 200th birthday. 

Originally, the statue was intended to be short-term, and was set to be removed on March 31. 

But on Tuesday, March 10, Mayor Jim Kenney announced that the civil rights leader will be getting a permanent monument. While Tubman’s exact birthday is unknown, her birthday is celebrated on this day, as it was the day she passed away. 

March 10 was also approved by the 101st Congress on March 13, 1990 to be celebrated as Harriet Tubman Day, but it is not yet recognized as a federal holiday. 

Jeannine Cook, owner of the Harriett’s Bookshop, the Fishtown bookstore named after Tubman, wants to change that. Cook is spearheading a letter-writing campaign urging Congress to support a proposal to honor Tubman with a national holiday.

The proposal, known as the Harriet Tubman Day Act, was introduced in the U.S. House last week by Democratic Congressman Brendan Boyle. 

“Ms. Tubman worked day and night to battle the scourge of slavery that had infected our democracy. She saved countless lives and even contributed to several victories in the Civil War. I feel that enacting a federal holiday in her name is a fitting tribute to someone who did so much for so many,” Boyle said in a statement

If enacted into law, the proposal would create the first federal holiday named after a woman, and the second holiday recognizing an African-American.

“And today as we introduce this bill, we ask those who are able, willing, called, and chosen, to put pen to paper and write your congresspeople urging them to co-sponsor this #HarrietTubmanDay bill and to get it passed swiftly,’ Cook said during a press conference in City Hall. 

So far, Cook has collected more than 9,750 signatures and has spoken to local members of Congress about the effort over the past year.

Cook told Axios that Tubman is one of those “familiar people in history who didn’t get their due when they were here.” 

“We don’t need another parade. We don’t need another party. What we need is substantial change,” Cook said, adding that the holiday would help the country reckon with its history of slavery. 

Cook is now calling for photos of letters sent to Congress on the matter, and is hoping to make a photobook next year. 

“Please consider telling your schools to join our letter writing campaign to make Harriet Tubman day the first federal holiday named for a woman. We plan to publish these letters as a book. So send us pics,” Cook wrote on Twitter. 

Cook shared some examples of letters that supporters have already sent to Congressman Boyle. One young girl wrote: “I think Harriet should be on the $20 bill.” 

“Our family supports this bill and the future work that must be done to make reparations and dismantle systemic racism. Much appreciation,” one supporter wrote. 

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