Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman, an American hero, was born this month in 1822 into enslavement. Her work as a spy, activist, abolitionist, feminist, and advocate is rightfully considered some of the most consequential and daring of the 19th century.

Harriet Tubman undertook an incredible 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people, including family and friends, using and fortifying the Underground Railroad. Every moment her daring work took her into the slave-holding south was one where capture would have meant certain death.

Additionally, during the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army.

Her work for justice did not end with the conclusion of the civil war. Later in life, Harriet Tubman worked as a women’s sufferage activist.

Born enslaved in Maryland, Tubman was devoutly religious and passionately political. In 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia, and later met John Brown in 1858, and helped him plan and recruit supporters for his 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry. During the Civil War, Harriet Tubman was instrumental in a raid at Combahee Ferry, which liberated more than 700 enslaved people. After the war, she retired to the family home on property she had purchased in 1859 in Auburn, New York, where she cared for her aging parents.

Harlem’s monument to this amazing American hero presents a determined Harriet Tubman, striding towards to the south to bring yet another group of enslaved Americans, northward.

Tubman’s statue, also known as “Swing Low,” was commissioned by the Department of Cultural Affairs’ Percent for Art Program, and designed by the African-American artist Alison Saar. It was dedicated in 2008 at Harlem’s Harriet Tubman Triangle on 122nd Street. In her memorial sculpture, 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.” She told the Parks Department, “I wanted not merely to speak of her courage or illustrate her commitment, but to honor her compassion.”

Artist A. Saar’s (who also did work on the platforms of Metro-North at Park/124) work is bolstered by some of the most political horticultural plantings I know of – cotton, for example – perhaps the commodity inextricably linked to the slavery economy.



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