A new monument honoring Harriet Tubman was unveiled in Newark yesterday, paying homage to the city’s role in the Underground Railroad along with the Black liberation movement’s rich history in the area. The ceremony also observed Harriet Tubman Day, which is today. The monument stands in Harriet Tubman Square, at the intersection of Washington and Broad Streets, in downtown Newark.
“In a time when so many cities are choosing to topple statues that limit the scope of their people’s story, we have chosen to erect a monument that spurs us into our future story of exemplary strength and solidity. Newark has chosen to erect a monument to a Black woman who was barely five feet tall, but had the visage and power of a giant,” said Newark Mayor Baraka.
“Harriet Tubman was a trailblazer, both literally and figuratively, whose legacy is a testament to the strength and resilience of the African American community in our country,” said First Lady Tammy Murphy. “Her unwavering commitment to freedom, justice, and equality has inspired countless others to stand up and fight for their rights.”
Designed by New Jersey native and architect Nina Cooke John, the monument, titled Shadow of a Face, will be the centerpiece of a community gathering space in the recently renamed Harriet Tubman Square. Shadow of a Face replaces a statue of Christopher Columbus that was removed in the summer of 2020.
“Shadow of a Face celebrates both the legacy of Harriet Tubman and the lives of the people living in Newark today – connecting their story to Tubman’s story through a common bond of seekers of liberty in the past and in the present,” said Cooke John. “Her heroism is recognized, and space is claimed for her story in this historic park, while her humanity is made accessible so that we can all be empowered by her deeds both great and small.”
The monument features a circular learning wall that guides visitors through a multi-sensory experience where they can read educational text and hear stories about Tubman’s life and the city’s history of Black liberation. Local historians were commissioned by the city and led by Rutgers University professor Dr. James Amemasor to provide research material for the learning wall and audio stories. A community mosaic includes ceramic tiles created by Newark residents during a dozen workshops led by Cooke John and Newark-based apprentice artist Adebunmi Gbadebo.
“We are so proud Nina Cooke John won the competition for this monument honoring abolitionist Harriet Tubman. She brought the creative thunder. A future forward architectural design combined with a robust combination of community created tile works and audio components have been integrated into the monument,” said Newark Museum of Art Director and CEO Linda C. Harrison “Monuments serve as reminders that history is not just in books, but all around us. I hope that visitors will be inspired to be courageous and work to achieve social change.”
Audible developed the permanent on-site audio experience at the monument, which includes seminal stories of Tubman’s life intertwined with narratives about the Underground Railroad and the history of free Black communities in New Jersey.
Monumental: Harriet Tubman and Newark’s Liberation Movement was created by Newark native Pia Wilson and performed by Newark native Queen Latifah and a talented cast. The audio experience will be made accessible to listeners around the world free of charge on Audible. Related school curricula featuring audio clips were also made available in collaboration with the Newark Museum of Art. The audio segments will also be available through the Audible Places app this Spring and the Newark Museum of Art’s digital guide on Bloomberg Connects, a free arts and culture app developed by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
“Audible is deeply committed to creating a vibrant, 24/7 streetscape in our neighborhood, one that draws on the city’s remarkable history and showcases the immense talent and innovation we see in Newark today,” said Audible Founder Don Katz. “We are thrilled to be able to produce this audio experience to enrich the visits of everyone who will come to our hometown to see this amazing new monument honoring a truly monumental figure in our shared history.”
“Let’s forever remember Harriet Tubman for her compassion, courage, bravery, service to others, and her commitment to faith, family, fortitude and freedom,” said Michele Jones Galvin, who is a descendant of Harriet Tubman and co-author of the book, Beyond the Underground, Aunt Harriet, Moses of Her People, a historical novel on the life of her ancestor. “In the spirit of Harriet Tubman, I know that the monument … will memorialize her heroism, will inspire future generations to take action when they see injustice, and will instill the value of service to the most vulnerable in our society.”
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