In Newark, a Harriet Tubman monument replaces Christopher Columbus


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By Claretta Bellamy, NBC News

The new Harriet Tubman monument, titled “Shadow of a Face,” by architect Nina Cooke John, stands in Newark, N.J., on March 9, 2023. (Ted Shaffrey / AP)

A monument to African American pioneer Harriet Tubman was unveiled in Newark, New Jersey, on Thursday, taking over a space where a statue of Christopher Columbus stood until the summer of 2020. 

During the ceremony in what is now downtown Newark’s Harriet Tubman Square (formerly Washington Park), Mayor Ras J. Baraka explained Newark’s connection with Tubman, who helped  “shepherd folks out of slavery into freedom,” he said. The city, which is now 48% Black and 37% Latino, according to the U.S. Census, was a known stop along the Underground Railroad, which was a network of routes escaped slaves followed to find freedom in states that had abolished slavery. 

“Very little is known about the history of abolition in the city of Newark in New Jersey, and this gives us a chance to tell that story,” Baraka told NBC News.

Titled “Shadow of a Face,” the 25-foot-tall monument is made up of steel that extends into a trellis visitors can walk under. Timelines of Tubman’s life and Newark’s abolitionist history are displayed on a circular wall, as an audio narration by Newark native Queen Latifah plays overhead. The monument’s title was inspired by writer Robert Hayden’s poem “Runagate Runagate,” which describes runaway slaves searching for freedom through the Underground Railroad.

Nina Cooke John, the architect who designed the monument, said that it is meant to evoke feelings of awe, curiosity and a sense of connection. 

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Tubman is one of many people who worked toward the end of slavery.

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