Harriet Tubman monument replacing Christopher Columbus statue in New Jersey unveiled

Francis Akhalbey March 13, 2023
The Harriet Tubman monument replaces a Christopher Columbus statue that was taken down in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd -- Photo Credit: Cesar Melgar/City of Newark

In 2020, a Christopher Columbus statue in Newark, New Jersey, was removed in the wake of the racial injustice protests that ensued nationwide and globally after the murder of George Floyd. On Thursday, city officials announced a monument in honor of iconic abolitionist Harriet Tubman had been unveiled to replace that statue, CNN reported.

Named “Shadow of a Face” and designed by Nina Cooke John, the 25-foot-tall monument is situated at Harriet Tubman Square, close to the intersection of Washington and Broad streets. 

“In a time when so many cities are choosing to topple statutes 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 Mayor Ras J. Baraka said in a statement

“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 grappled through many conflicts to steadily lead our nation in its progress toward racial equality.”

Tubman was a key figure of the Underground Railroad, a large movement in North America consisting of several individuals who worked together to aid slaves in their escape from their captors.

Baraka said the title of the monument is in reference to Robert Hayden’s 1962 “Runagate Runagate” poem. The poem makes mention of Tubman. The mayor also said the monument was chosen in June 2021 “through a national open call and multi-phase selection process.”

In an interview with the Harriet Tubman Monument Project, Cooke John explained she wanted the monument to embody the community of Newark. “One way I wanted to bring about their connection is really to meet the community with the prompt, ‘What is your story of liberation? What is your story – big or small – of really overcoming multiple obstacles that we all have to overcome,’ ” Cooke John said.

George Floyd’s 2020 death in the hands of Minneapolis police sparked protests in what was a year of racial reckoning. During that period, several monuments honoring Confederate figures and other questionable people tied to the history of the United States were taken down. The Columbus statue in Newark was one of them. Though the Italian explorer and navigator is credited for “discovering” the Americas, he has long been criticized for his involvement in the violent subjugation and treatment of the Indigenous people he encountered.

Baraka said the recently unveiled Harriet Tubman monument encompasses a portrait wall and a mosaic of tiles, per CNN. The statement also said the walls of the circular monument also “guide visitors through a multi-sensory experience where they can read educational texts, hear stories about Tubman’s life, and the city’s history of Black liberation.”

Newark native and award-winning rapper and actress, Queen Latifah, narrates Tubman’s story in the audio experience. 

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 13, 2023


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