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A monument honoring famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman was unveiled in Newark, New Jersey, this week, replacing a statue of Christopher Columbus removed in 2020 amid protests of social injustice, officials said.
The 25-foot-tall monument, titled “The Shadow of a Face,” was unveiled Thursday in the heart of the city’s newly renamed Harriet Tubman Square, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka announced in a communicated.
“At a time when so many cities are choosing to overturn laws that limit the scope of their people’s history, we have chosen to erect a monument that pushes us into our future history of exemplary strength and solidity,” said Baraka.
“We have created a focal point in the heart of our city that expresses our participation in an ongoing living history of a people who have gone through many conflicts to steadily lead our nation in its progress towards racial equality.”
Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland and eventually escaped to Pennsylvania. From 1850 to 1860, she made more than a dozen trips to Maryland to help slaves reach freedom through the Underground Railroad, a secret network of roads and safe houses, according to the US National Parks Service.
The Tubman monument’s name was inspired by the 1962 poem “Runagate Runagate” by Robert Hayden, which refers to the abolitionist. The monument was selected in June 2021 following an open national call and a multi-phased selection process, Baraka said.
Monument designer and architect Nina Cooke John said she wanted to incorporate the Newark community into the monument.
“One of the ways I wanted to create their connection is to really meet the community with the prompt, ‘What’s your story of liberation? What is your story – big or small – of really overcoming the multiple obstacles that we all have to overcome,” Cooke John said in an interview published by the Harriet Tubman Monument Project.
Tubman’s three-time great-grandniece, Michele Jones Gavin, said the monument would commemorate the activist’s heroism and inspire future generations to take action in the face of injustice.
“Let us forever remember Harriet Tubman, for her compassion, her courage, her bravery, her service to others, her patriotism and her commitment to faith, family, courage and freedom,” Gavin said.
The Columbus statue that the Tubman memorial replaces was removed amid a nationwide racial reckoning following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The movement has spurred the removal or renaming of dozens of monuments, including those of Confederate leaders and other controversial figures in US history.
Columbus has long been a controversial figure for his treatment of the Indigenous communities he encountered and for his role in violent colonization at their expense.
The monument has two sections: a portrait wall and a tile mosaic, all contained within a circular learning wall inscribed with stories from Tubman’s life and Newark’s black liberation history, the official said. statement from the mayor.
The wall of portraits features a larger-than-life depiction of Tubman while the mosaic features stories from Newark residents.
“Not only are their stories physically part of the monument, but they can also come to the monument and feel that ownership because they were truly part of its creation,” John Cooke said in her interview with the Harriet Tubman Monument Project.
“To see their stories become part of other stories of Newark people in this mosaic which is on the wall and is attached to the back of the wall which has the face of Harriet Tubman, the central figure who grounds us in the story more larger than life by Harriet Tubman.
Residents also recorded some of their personal stories for the monument’s audio experience, according to the mayor’s statement. The audio experience includes Tubman’s life story, told by artist Queen Latifah. Audio clips will also be included in school curricula, in collaboration with the Newark Museum of Art.
To complement the monument, the galleries of the Newark Museum of Art will incorporate stories related to slavery and the slave trade, said Silvia Filippini-Fantoni, deputy director of learning and engagement at the Newark Museum of Art. , in a video interview released by the Harriet Tubman Monument Project.
Harriet Tubman Square is near the intersection of Washington and Broad streets in Newark’s downtown arts district.
The monument is close to the Newark Museum of Art at 49 Washington Street. Click here for transit options in the area.