Newark will swap Harriet Tubman statue for Columbus, rename park
NEWARK — A city park where a Christopher Columbus statue was removed months ago will be renamed to honor underground railroad icon Harriet Tubman, including a new statue in the historical abolitionist's likeness..
During a virtual State of the City address on Wednesday night from the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Mayor Ras Baraka said the plan to rename Washington Park was "not window dressing."
"Newark played an important and integral role in the Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman’s journeys to freedom led her to our city many times in that very area," he said.
A call for proposals for the Tubman monument would be announced “in a few weeks," Newark Arts and Culture Director Fayemi Shakur said, with a goal of reviewing proposals in January 2021 and a projected completion date in 2022.
City officials also said the renaming of the park would more than likely happen at the same time as the installation of the monument.
Tubman guided fugitive slaves through Newark to freedom as an Underground Railroad “conductor,” abolitionist, Civil War Union scout and women’s suffrage advocate.
A public school in the district already is named for her. Harriet Tubman National Blue Ribbon School is a Pre-K through 7th grade school in the Central Ward.
A city spokesman said the Columbus statue, removed in late June, remained in a Department of Public Works yard.
“There are several suitors but the city hasn’t decided what to do,” he said about the statue's future.
Italian American groups have been outraged by the removal of the statue here and elsewhere.
“Discussions and decisions regarding Columbus statues and Columbus celebrations are largely without review of complete factual historical information. In addition, the meaning and history of Christopher Columbus statues to the local community are rarely considered and generally ignored,” UNICO National President, Frank N. De Frank said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5.
“It is important to note that Columbus celebrations started in the late 1800s, at least in part as an atonement and apology to Italian immigrants for being subjected to notable discrimination upon their arrival in these United States and for the lynching of 11 Italian-Americans in New Orleans," De Frank said.
"Does anyone else find it ironic that the same discrimination and disrespect for Italian-Americans that occurred then is now repeated in the form of desecration of Columbus statues? Has our country really advanced?"
Tubman led about 70 people to freedom and provided instructions to dozens more to help them escape over a roughly 10-year span, according to the National Park Service.
First Presbyterian Church in Newark, founded in 1666, was one of the churches used as a regular stop on the Underground Railroad. Passageways through the church's cellar are still accessible, according to UnitedStatesChurches.com.
In 1896, at a women’s suffrage convention, Tubman said, “I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can't say — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”
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