Posted on March 10, 2023

A Monument to Harriet Tubman Replaces a Columbus Statue in Newark

James Barron, New York Times, March 9, 2023

This morning, Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark will preside at the unveiling of a massive monument to the abolitionist hero Harriet Tubman. {snip}

The monument is being dedicated amid renewed efforts to recognize Tubman by putting her portrait on the $20 bill, an idea that began during the Obama administration but was halted after Donald Trump became president. Last week Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat of New Hampshire, introduced a measure that would require $20 bills printed after 2030 to carry Tubman’s likeness.

The monument in Newark, “Shadow of a Face,” includes audio with Queen Latifah that was produced by Audible, which is based in Newark. The monument includes a circular “learning wall” where visitors can read about Newark’s history and the life of Tubman, an enslaved woman who escaped in 1849 and then led hundreds to freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, she was a Union spy.


“Shadow of a Face” has been installed in a park where a statue of Christopher Columbus stood until it was removed in 2020 in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. Last year Baraka led a ceremony that changed the name of the park — which had been Washington Park since the 1790s — to Harriet Tubman Square.


Nina Cooke John, the architect and designer who won the commission for the statue in a city-sponsored competition, said the surface of one wall of the monument would have “information on key players in Newark who were active in Black liberation, who would have been active in the Underground Railroad.”


Liz Del Tufo, the president of the preservationist group Newark Landmarks, agrees that Tubman is someone to celebrate. “She deserves much better than to be considered a replacement for Columbus,” she said. But she questioned Tubman’s connections to to Newark. “Harriet Tubman, a magnificent woman, has no footprint in Newark,” she said.

By contrast, Washington, she said, “has a big footprint in Newark.” The park that is now home to the Tubman monument saw skirmishes with fatalities during the Revolutionary War, she said. It also housed a school that was used as hospital for patriots.

“As Philip Roth said, Washington Park is our link to the founding of the United States. The mayor said to me that was your independence, not mine. He’s right in the sense that the Declaration of Independence didn’t do much for anybody except wealthy, white slave-owning men,” said Del Tufo. “However, it did make us all Americans.”