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‘A Statement Against Barbarism, Enslavement, And Oppression’: Newark Mayor Announces Christopher Columbus Statue Will Be Replaced By Harriet Tubman
35th Anniversary Mother's Day Weekend Gospelfest 2017 NEWARK, NJ - MAY 13: Mayor of Newark New Jersey Ras J. Baraka speaks onstage at the 35th Anniversary Mother's Day Weekend Gospelfest 2017 at Prudential Center on May 13, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images) Paul Zimmerman / Contributor via Getty Images
Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images

The city of Newark will be replacing its Christopher Columbus statue with a monument honoring Harriet Tubman, Mayor Ras J. Baraka announced last week. 

“Nearly one year after our nation’s racial reckoning and just in time for this year’s celebration of Juneteenth, we are proud to announce the design selected for our new Harriet Tubman monument,” Baraka said. 

“It is only fitting that we memorialize Tubman’s heroic efforts leading enslaved Africans to freedom via the Underground Railroad at this time of year when we celebrate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. Ms. John’s work of public art will be a symbol of hope and optimism for generations to come, not only for our Newark community but also for the entire country,” Baraka added.

The design of artist Nina Cooke John was selected to create the monument, which will reportedly be circular and “guide visitors throughout a multi-sensory experience.” 

“As a woman, a Black woman, and mother of three girls, I am delighted to bring my memorial for Harriet Tubman to life in Newark,” said John. “My design creates a welcoming space for people to connect with Tubman as well as interact and reflect on their own liberation from whatever weight they might be carrying. This is a monument for the community and by the community.”

In an announcement about the move, the city said that the “park and the surrounding area that includes the Newark Museum of Art and Newark Public Library will be renamed Tubman Square in honor of the pioneering abolitionist, during the summer of 2022, when the new monument will be installed.”

Last year, the city’s Columbus statue was removed from the city’s Washington Park. According to reporting, the statue was removed last summer by city crews. 

“The removal of this statue should not be perceived as an insult to the Italian-American community,” Baraka said at the time. “It is a statement against the barbarism, enslavement, and oppression that this explorer represents.” 

The outlet reported, that the “statue was unveiled in 1927 as a gift from the Italian-American community. There is another Columbus statue on Bloomfield Avenue, but the press release from Baraka made no mention of it.”

While many people can accept the idea of celebrating Harriet Tubman, an incredibly influential and heroic abolitionist, the rejection of Christopher Columbus has been linked by some to efforts to alter the telling of history in not acknowledging the person who has been largely credited for the European discovery of the Americas.

According to a report by CBS News from September, at least 33 statues of Christopher Columbus have been done away with since protests last spring. 

This is not the first effort by the city to update its structures. Newark also made headlines last week over a different statue — a 700-pound bronze one of George Floyd — erected outside of City Hall.

As reported by The Daily Wire, “Pix 11 reported that the statue was unveiled in a ceremony on Wednesday, with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and others paying tribute to Floyd, who died on May 25, 2020, after Minneapolis police attempted to arrest him and one, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.”

“Hopefully it inspires those who walk by to be more active, take part in activism,” Baraka said of the massive statue. 

In a press release about the statue, organizers said that “Mr. Floyd’s death elevated the Black Lives Matter movement, which has resulted in an international response, including protests, police reform measures, and the removal of Confederate statues from public parks and racist names from organizations.”

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