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Harriet Tubman statue to replace Christopher Columbus in New Jersey

·3-min read
Statue of Christopher Columbus in Washington Park, Newark, New Jersey, before it was removed in June 2020 (Google Maps)
Statue of Christopher Columbus in Washington Park, Newark, New Jersey, before it was removed in June 2020 (Google Maps)

A new statue of abolitionist Harriet Tubman will be erected in Newark, New Jersey — replacing a monument to Christopher Columbus that was removed last year.

The statue of Columbus had stood in Washington Park for nearly a century before it was removed last June, as part of a nationwide reckoning on racism in America.

On 17 June, mayor Ras Baraka revealed designs for the new statue, as part of the city’s Juneteenth celebration.

He said: “It is only fitting that we memorialise Tubman’s heroic efforts leading enslaved Africans to freedom via the Underground Railroad at this time of year when we celebrate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States”.

He added that the statue would “be a symbol of hope and optimism for generations to come, not only for our Newark community, but also for the entire country”.

Artist Nina Cooke John proposed the design for the new statue, called “Shadow of a Face,” which will feature a circular monument, a larger-than-life profile of the abolitionist, and a ceramic mosaic of Tubman’s face.

Ms John said: “As a woman, a Black woman, and mother of three girls, I am delighted to bring my memorial for Harriet Tubman to life in Newark.

“My design creates a welcoming space for people to connect with Tubman as well as interact and reflect on their own liberation from whatever weight they might be carrying. This is a monument for the community and by the community.”

Ms John will work with Newark-based artist Adebunmi Gbadebo, in conducting research and community engagement throughout the development.

Stories of community members that are uncovered through these processes will feature within the monument. Those wishing to donate towards the statue can also have their names memorialised within the bricks of the design.

In her proposal video, Ms John spoke of the circular design of the monument, adding “the only thing that breaks the circle is the footprint of the old statue”. She said this was intentional, because “it is important to recognise this place in history as a part of our collective memory”.

The footprint of the old statue will contain the map of Tubman’s route through New Jersey, on which she took many escaped slaves to freedom.

Tubman is also known to have spent time in New Jersey, raising money for her work with the Underground Railroad, and is thought to have brought former slaves to freedom through the state — the last stop on the railroad before New York.

In an interview with CBS, Mr Baraka spoke of the significance of having the abolitionist memorialised.

“Harriet Tubman actually stepped food here in this property, Christopher Columbus did not.

“So, it seems more appropriate to have a statue of Harriet Tubman and talk about the abolitionists’ work that went on that most people in New Jersey don’t even know.”

The park and surrounding area are set to be renamed Tubman Square next summer, when the new statue will be completed and installed.

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