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“Walking in Her Steps” along the Trail – a way to bring history to life!

Submitted by Theresa Ramsey

Standing in awe of the Harriet Tubman sculpture currently situated in Sylva, supporters of the Macon County Women’s History Trail (WHT) Project joined together on October 24, 2021, to celebrate the 3rd anniversary of the founding of the trail which opened in the downtown Franklin area in 2018.  Event co-coordinator Claire Suminski welcomed those gathered to commemorate the walking trail which honors remarkable, historic women along its path.  She declared “it is exciting to see what the future holds.”  Her daughter Molly, added it was “inspiring to be with a group of women with so much passion for preserving our community’s history and connecting previous disparate threads of our past.”  With several attendees dressed in period clothes to represent individuals marked on the trail, the scene evoked feelings of accomplishment for critical points in our history when women stepped forward to overcome insurmountable challenges that lead the way to opportunities for advancement of all women.  All present indeed felt this strong connection. 

“Mary Polanski, WHT co-chair, expressed “it is exciting to be celebrating the third year of the Women’s History Trail with many of those who have worked to make the project a reality.  We are glad to be viewing the impressive Harriet Tubman sculpture that honors such an important and beloved woman.  We are grateful for Barbara McRae’s vision and her leadership in starting the WHT Project and we also celebrate her today.”  Taking a step back in time to a 2016 board meeting of the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County (FHAMC) where the non-profit agreed to sponsor the WHT Project, the late Barbara McRae first shared her vision of celebrating women and honoring their accomplishments with the creation of a trail to walk in her steps and experience history in a deeper, more personal way. Barbara’s goal was to “identify appropriate spaces, create artwork/exhibits for those women (or groups being honored at specific areas), and link the locations by joining them together into a walking trail with signage that tell their stories.”

Susan Ervin, event co-coordinator, commended the group involved (including all those not able to join us) for their strong team effort in helping grow the trail to its current 15 plaques with plans to add more sites soon.  Theresa Ramsey, WHT/FHAMC Treasurer, stated “the trail connects industrious Macon County women from all walks of life.  Even though those honored along the trail are diverse in the groups they represent, the strong bond that weaves them all together is their story of ingenuity, endurance, and commitment to improve the lives of their families.”

The Women’s History Trail organization is taking small steps that will hopefully lead to big strides for women’s history by continuing to celebrate the lives of Macon County women.  Other WHT projects include the annual selection of a “WHT Macon Matriarch” and the production of a seven-foot bronze sculpture of three women, “Sowing the Seeds of the Future” which is expected to be completed by summer 2022.  This work of art, originally conceived by Barbara McRae, depicts three local women (African American, pioneer settler, Cherokee) whose lives and cultures intersected in the early days of Macon County, is being sculpted by nationally renowned figurative sculptor Wesley Wofford.  Consequently, Wesley Wofford is also the artist who created the incredible Harriet Tubman “The Journey to Freedom” piece which is currently on a nationwide tour.

In closing, Marty Greeble, WHT co-chair, shared, “We have such appreciation for Barbara McRae’s creative vision of the Women’s History Trail in Macon County….the first women’s trail in North Carolina. Come take a walk and see for yourself.”  We invite you to learn more about the Women’s History Trail Project by visiting our sponsor organization’s website www.FolkHeritageAssociation.org or email WHT leadership at whtmaconnc@gmail.com.

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