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City leaders, activists and rappers, including Queen Latifah, celebrated the unveiling a Harriet Tubman monument this week in Newark, New Jersey. It caps an effort to replace a statue honoring Christopher Columbus.
Instead of honoring Columbus, a man known for the enslavement, rape, torture and genocide of Indigenous people, the new monument pays homage to the famous conductor of the Underground Railroad. Architect Nina Cooke John designed the monument.
Tubman organized a network of safe houses and passageways for people risking their lives to escape or help others escape chattel slavery in the South. Her heroism personifies the ideals of liberation and democracy that have yet to be fully realized.
Michele Jones Galvin is a descendant of Tubman, her great-great-great-grandniece. 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,” Galvin said, NJ.com reported.
It comes after New Jersey began work on a Black Heritage Trail. The tourist attraction highlights important landmarks and destinations along the Underground Railroad that passed through the state.
Harriet Tubman monument in New Jersey
This week’s unveiling symbolizes a years-long effort to replace statues of European oppressors with Black liberators.
Following the 2020 police lynching of George Floyd in Minneapolis, cities around the nation began to take down monuments honoring enslavers, confederates and segregationists.
“To have something that started as a response to George Floyd and his murder … people all around the country pulling down statues that represented a history that was oppressive, we wanted to take it a step further,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said on Thursday. “We wanted to build something. And as a result of that, this is what we got.”
Despite claims from some that removing these monuments erases history, most of them weren’t erected until the 1920s and after. During the years of Jim Crow, white supremacists opposed to Black progress sought to make an intimidating statement by erecting the racist renderings.
Named the “Shadow of a Face,” the Harriet Tubman monument features a circular wall with a steel outline of Harriet Tubman, according to the Guardian. It includes a listening wall where visitors accounts of Tubman’s life. The wall is narrated by award-winning rapper and actor Queen Latifah, who was born in Newark.