Bookstore owner launches petition for Harriet Tubman federal holiday

Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa. has introduced a bill that would establish Harriet Tubman Day as a federal holiday

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A Philadelphia bookstore owner has launched a petition to honor Harriet Tubman with a federal holiday. 

Jeannine Cook, 38, owner of Harriett’s Bookshop, has collected more than 7,800 signatures on the petition, NBC News reports. Cook’s passion for the American abolitionist began as a child when she read books about Tubman’s life in her school library. In February 2020, she opened a book shop in Philadelphia named after Tubman where customers can buy titles by female authors. 

“There’s this whole lie that Black people don’t read, that Black women didn’t do everything that we’ve done. (Harriet Tubman) was somebody, even as a little girl, that I needed to see and know that these stories had real-life humans, real-life Black women, just like me, who were the reason that certain institutions crumbled. If you want to see Black women celebrated, then just go celebrate them and everybody else can get on board if they want,” Cook said in a 2021 interview with TODAY

She also reflected on the challenges of opening a bookstore amid the COVID pandemic.

“It was just so unbelievable because of the sheer amount of time, energy, and money I had just put in. I also had no real resolve to get my resources back, so it was really painful and just kind of surreal,” Cook said. “When stuff like that happens, you’re kind of asking yourself, or at least I’m asking myself, ‘What is this trying to tell me? What is the lesson in this?'”

Cook distributes blank postcards for patrons of her bookstore to write their representatives calling for a federal holiday honoring the famed political activist who led enslaved people to freedom. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) has responded to Cook’s effort by introducing a bill in the House that would establish Harriet Tubman Day as a federal holiday. 

This 1860-75 photo made available by the Library of Congress shows Harriet Tubman. (Harvey B. Lindsley/Library of Congress via AP)

“Our federal holidays must be a mirror of the American experience while at the same time reflecting our country’s history and diversity,” Boyle said in a statement, as reported by Axios

Cook has reportedly spoken to several local members of Congress about making Tubman the first American woman honored with a federal holiday. 

“It’s the multifacetedness of Harriet that I find so extraordinary,” Cook said to NBC News. “There were so many ways she, I believe, exemplifies how to take the worst of what society has offered and to transmutate {sic} that into an immense amount of power — not for yourself, but for the people around you.” 

In an interview with Axios, Cook said Tubman is “one of those familiar people in history who didn’t get their due when they were here.” The Harriet Tubman federal holiday would come after Presidents Day.

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