Washington Park, the northernmost of three colonial-era public squares in downtown Newark, New Jersey, will be renamed Tubman Square after a new monument to abolitionist Harriet Tubman is installed at the park next year. The monument will replace a statue of Christopher Columbus that was ousted from the triangular public green space in June 2020. The removal of the Columbus statue (one of two in Newark) was part of a larger movement that unfolded in the United States and beyond last summer in which monuments to historic figures associated with oppression, enslavement, and white supremacy were purged—and some toppled—from public spaces.
As for what the monument to Tubman will look like, Newark officials recently unveiled the five finalist design proposals that are now open to public feedback through May 24. (The finalists themselves were announced in early March.) Once the Newark community has weighed in, a 14-person selection committee of artists, curators, historians, and community stakeholders will pick the winning design to replace Columbus at Washington Park. The jury, led by fayemi shakur, the City of Newark’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Director, will take the community feedback into consideration during the selection process. The winning proposal will be announced in June.
The five finalist proposals are: Harriet’s Bridge by Abigail DeVille, Keep Going by Dread Scott, Freedom Train by Jules Arthur, Shadow of a Face by Nina Cooke John, and Harriet Tubman on the Road to Freedom by Vinnie Bagwell.
As detailed by organizers of the Harriet Tubman Monument Project, the winning artist/designer will work alongside a Newark-based artist who, in the role of project apprentice, will aid in community engagement efforts and research.
“We are now choosing from five brilliant monument designs to determine which one will honor Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad in our city,” said Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka in a statement. “We want Newark residents to become involved in this process and tell us which designs they like best. This monument will reflect how Newark honors one of our great pioneers and warriors, and therefore it should, in turn, reflect the views of our residents.”
While all of the finalists are acclaimed in their own right, the Jamaica-born Cooke John, an architect and educator who serves as founding principal of New York-based multidisciplinary architecture and design practice Studio Cooke John, might be the finalist most familiar to AN readers.
Born into slavery in 1822, Tubman is largely associated with Delaware and her native Maryland as well as Philadelphia and the city of Auburn, New York. However, Newark, New Jersey’s largest city and among the oldest cities in the U.S., served as key stop on the Underground Railroad. Tubman served as perhaps the most famous “conductor” on the expansive network of secret routes and safe houses established by antislavery activists that was used to ferry enslaved African Americans from the South into free states of the North and further afield to Canada.
The Columbus-replacing monument to Tubman at Washington Park will join several existing monuments at the landmark-flanked, National Register of Historic Places-listed urban green space including an equestrian statue of the park’s namesake, a statue of noted Newarkrian and patent leather inventor Seth Boyden, and a bust of Puerto Rican poet and politician Luis Muñoz Rivera.
Additional design renderings and models along with in-depth video presentations on each proposal from their respective artist/designer can be found on this detailed public review page. Again, the public has until May 24 to weigh in on the finalist designs. Donations to the Harriet Tubman Monument Project can also be made here.