Newark, NJ – A new monument, unveiled in Newark Thursday honoring Harriet Tubman, was designed by architect and Montclair resident Nina Cooke John. The new monument replaces a statue of Christopher Columbus that was removed in the summer of 2020, amid calls for racial justice.
“Shadow of a Face,” designed by Cooke John, will be the centerpiece of a community gathering space in the recently renamed Harriet Tubman Square. The monument pays homage to the city’s role in the Underground Railroad along with the Black liberation movement’s rich history in the area.
Shadow of a Face includes an audio experience produced by Audible and performed by Queen Latifah. The monument stands in Harriet Tubman Square, at the intersection of Washington and Broad Streets, in downtown Newark.
“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,” said Cooke John. “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.”
Mayor Ras J. Baraka was joined by First Lady Tammy Murphy, State Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz, and numerous other dignitaries Thursday at an uveiling ceremony where Tubman’s great-great-great-grandniece Michele Jones Galvin helped cut the ribbon. Galvin is co-author of the book, Beyond the Underground, Aunt Harriet, Moses of Her People, a historical novel on the life of her ancestor.
“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,” said Mayor Baraka.
The monument features a circular learning wall that guides visitors through a multi-sensory experience where they can read educational text and hear stories about Tubman’s life and the city’s history of Black liberation. Local historians were commissioned by the city and led by Rutgers University professor Dr. James Amemasor to provide research material for the learning wall and audio stories. A community mosaic includes ceramic tiles created by Newark residents during a dozen workshops led by Cooke John and Newark-based apprentice artist Adebunmi Gbadebo.
The title of the monument, Shadow of a Face, refers to the 1962 poem by Robert Hayden, “Runagate Runagate.” Shadow of a Face was chosen in June 2021 through a national open call and multi-phase selection process. Community engagement was a critical part of Cooke John’s design proposal. Residents also recorded their personal stories of liberation for the audio experience and were also invited to “buy a brick” to be placed in a designated section of the monument, cementing their own presence during this historic period in Newark.
“Let’s forever remember Harriet Tubman for her compassion, courage, bravery, service to others, and her commitment to faith, family, fortitude and freedom,” said Ms. Galvin. “In the spirit of Harriet Tubman, I know that the monument that we are about to unveil will memorialize her heroism, will inspire future generations to take action when they see injustice, and will instill the value of service to the most vulnerable in our society.”
Public programming to accompany the unveiling, will include The Newark Museum of Art’s Community Day: Her Story/Our Story, a celebration on Saturday, March 11, featuring live performances, art-making activities, gallery tours, and more to honor the arrival of the new public monument and the reinstallation of the museum’s Seeing America 18th & 19th Century galleries.