Later this month she will find out for sure if she is the oldest of Tubman's descendants when the branches of the family gather for a reunion in Auburn, N.Y., where the abolitionist settled and was buried, said Barbara Thomas, Toles' niece.
"This is the first family reunion we've ever had," said Thomas, 68, who is among the fourth generation of Tubman's relatives and who lives with Toles in Laurelton.
On May 29, Thomas and Toles will travel upstate to Auburn to meet relatives from at least six states - including Georgia, California, New York, New Jersey, Florida and Maryland - who share a link to Harriet Tubman. The trip is being sponsored by a Brooklyn historical group and other organizations in other parts of the country, Thomas said.
"This is a very historic moment," said one of the organizers from the Braggin' About Brooklyn historical group. "It is such a momentous occasion to stand at the grave of the greatest African-American woman."
Tubman was an escaped slave who set up the Underground Railroad, a chain of houses that led north, to help other slaves run away. She is credited with helping more than 300 slaves escape their owners and find freedom in the Northern states, Thomas said.
"She's portrayed as a soldier," she said of Tubman, who had a $2,000 bounty on her head at one time. "We always heard the stories, but as a kid you never listen."
Tubman did not have children, but her sister, Jeanetta Keene had a number of children, including Toles' father, Joseph, Thomas said. Toles, 91, suffered a stroke last year and has difficulty speaking.
Some of the family settled in Baltimore while others ventured farther north. Tubman lived in Auburn, N.Y. until she died in 1913.
Following in Harriet Tubman's pioneering footsteps, her descendants in Baltimore set up the city's first black-owned cab company and funeral home, Thomas said.
"We were the first to do a lot of things," she said.
Hundreds of people were expected to make the pilgrimage to Auburn, Thomas said. To her knowledge, there are no other Tubman descendants living in Queens, but she would not be surprised to find someone living around the corner from here.
"We're going to meet a lot of family we don't even know," she said. "We might find a relative right here in Laurelton. We don't know."
Many people who are not related to the Tubman descendants are also going to Auburn, she said.
"Everyone knows Harriet Tubman," Thomas said. "They all want to be a part of it."
And the trip will be educational for the youngest descendants - up to the sixth generation of Tubman's relatives.
"It's great for the young people to be involved," Thomas said. "They're very excited about it because they hear about it in school and now they're going to see some of it."
And Thomas hopes this will be the first of what will become a yearly event.
"This should be an annual thing from here out," she said. "Everyone is very excited about it."
Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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