Meet Ernestine Wyatt, 3x Great-Grandniece of Harriet Tubman

Ernestine “Tina” Martin Wyatt is a mother, grandmother, educator, nurse, artist…and great-great-great-grandniece of Harriet Tubman. Connected through her great-great-grandmother, Ann Marie Stewart (the daughter of Ms. Tubman’s sister Soph), Ms. Wyatt has become a champion for the legacy of her forebear. She has spearheaded Harriet Tubman Day in Washington, D.C., to preserve the memory and study of the abolitionist, while also campaigning for the inclusion of Ms. Tubman’s portrait on the twenty-dollar bill.

A resounding tribute to a legend

On New Year’s Day during the 2022 National Bell Festival, we had the privilege of welcoming Ms. Wyatt to the Military Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery for a bicentennial tribute to her iconic relative. Across 200 tolls commemorating the 200 years since Ms. Tubman’s birth, the ceremony was a poignant moment of reflection on Ms. Tubman’s service to America.

Ms. Wyatt sounded the first toll on a bell that itself pays tribute to women Veterans. The bell was commissioned for the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter SPAR in 1944, a ship named to honor the women who served during World War II as members of the original U.S. Coast Guard Women Reserve – the S.P.A.R.S. The remaining 199 tolls were sounded by women Veterans from each branch of the nation’s Armed Forces.

Ernestine Wyatt Rings the 1944 USCGC Spar Bell at the Military Women's Memorial

Image: Ernestine Wyatt, great-great-great-grandniece of Harriet Tubman, rings the 1944 USCGC SPAR bell during a bicentennial commemoration tolling at the Military Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in conjunction with the National Bell Festival on New Year's Day 2022.

U.S. Army Veteran Carla Moss, one of the bell ringers, said it best: “When I rang the bell today, I held back tears as I was deeply moved, but in an understanding way. I understood her purpose and actions. In those few moments, glimpses of her spirit and her strength, her power and energy, and her determination were felt by all. With each bell ring, I was also reminded of her sacrifices, her trials, what she endured for years, and what she did for others.”

Ms. Tubman’s service to the nation

Recognized as one of the early women, and likely the first African American woman, to serve with the U.S. military during the Civil War, Harriet Tubman is a woman who needs no introduction. She is synonymous with her daring escapades on the Underground Railroad, but her later military history, which includes serving as a scout, spy, guerrilla soldier, and nurse for the Union Army, remains a surprise for many. 

The Military Women’s Memorial is hoping to change that. With an exhibit titled The Color of Freedom, the Memorial explores the history of discrimination faced by women of color in the U.S. Armed Forces – and gives a special nod to Harriet Tubman. In fact, Arlington National Cemetery was established in 1864 during Ms. Tubman’s service.

By paying tribute to Ms. Tubman in this small way, we hope to highlight her resonance and relevance still today. With Ms. Wyatt, the Veteran bell ringers, and the wonderful team at the Military Women’s Memorial, we have every faith Ms. Tubman’s accomplishments will resound for another 200 years.