Newark unveils monument honoring Harriet Tubman and the city’s Underground Railroad history

March 10, 2023

Photo by DreamPlay, Photographer Cesar Melgar; Courtesy of the City of Newark Press Office

A new monument to abolitionist Harriet Tubman was unveiled in a Newark, New Jersey park this week. Designed by NJ native and architect Nina Cooke John, Shadow of a Face comprises a two-story welded outline of Tubman with a circular wall that features a carving of Tubman’s face, along with educational text and audio. Located in the recently renamed Harriet Tubman Square on Broad Street, the new monument replaces a statue of Christopher Columbus that the city removed in 2020.

Photos courtesy of Audible

Commissioned by Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka in 2021 following a nationwide open call, Cooke John designed the monument to portray Tubman in two perspectives, the larger-than-life figure and the eye-level face, “putting her bravery and strength of character within reach,” according to the artist.

The monument’s, Shadow of a Face, is a reference to a poem written by Robert Hayden, Runagate Runagate.

Photo courtesy of Audible

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,” Cooke John said.

“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.”

When visitors walk around the monument, they will hear local residents, and Newark-native Queen Latifah, narrate stories about Tubman, Newark’s connection to the Underground Railroad, and the city’s history of Black liberation. The audio is produced by Audible, which has been headquartered in Newark since 2007.

The new monument is part of the city’s new Arts and Education District and the first step towards a full park revitalization.

“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. In a country where the overwhelming majority of monuments are testaments to white males, 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,” Baraka said.

“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. Harriet Tubman Square and its interactive centerpiece sculpture, Shadow of a Face, represent our past, present, and future.”

The Harriet Tubman Monument project was led by City of Newark Arts and Cultural Affairs Director fayemi shakur and funded by the City of Newark, Audible, The Mellon Foundation, and individual residents in collaboration with The Newark City Parks Foundation, Newark Arts, The Newark Museum of Art, and the Newark Public Library.

New York City’s statue of Harriet Tubman was dedicated in 2008 at Harriet Tubman Triangle on 122nd Street. As 6sqft reported, artist Alison Saar chose to depict Tubman “not so much as a conductor of the Underground Railroad, but as a train itself, an unstoppable locomotive that worked towards improving the lives of slaves for most of her long life.”


All photos courtesy of Audible unless otherwise noted

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