Location: Manhattan, New York
Artist: Alison Saar
Harriet Tubman (March 1822 – March 10, 1913) was an American abolitionist and social activist. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 slaves, including family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground railroad. During the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army. In her later years, Tubman was an activist in the movement for women’s suffrage.
Born enslaved in Dorchester County, Maryland. Tubman was beaten and whipped by her various masters as a child. Early in life, she suffered a traumatic head wound when an irate overseer threw a heavy metal weight intending to hit another slave but hit her instead. The injury caused dizziness, pain, and spells of hypersomnia, which occurred throughout her life. After her injury, Tubman began experiencing strange visions and vivid dreams, which she ascribed to premonitions from God. These experiences, combined with her Methodist upbringing, led her to become devoutly religious.
In 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia, only to return to Maryland to rescue her family soon after. Slowly, one group at a time, she brought relatives with her out of the state, and eventually guided dozens of other slaves to freedom. Traveling by night and in extreme secrecy, Tubman (or "Moses", as she was called) "never lost a passenger”. After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, she helped guide fugitives farther north into British North America (Canada) and helped newly freed slaves find work. Tubman met John Brown in 1858 and helped him plan and recruit supporters for his 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry.
When the Civil War began, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and then as an armed scout and spy. The first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, she guided the raid of Combahee Ferry, which liberated more than 700 slaves. 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. She was active in the women's suffrage movement until illness overtook her, and she had to be admitted to a home for elderly African Americans that she had helped to establish years earlier. She became an icon of courage and freedom.
"I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves" - Harriet Tubman
Did you know that currently only 5 of New York City's 150 statues are of historic women? Of those 5 only 1 is a woman of colour! The statue, also known as ‘Swing Low,’ is a 4 meter bronze and Chinese granite sculpture, and was created by sculptor Alison Saar.
Her artwork focuses on the African diaspora and black female identity and is influenced by African, Caribbean, and Latin American folk art and spirituality. It was unveiled in November 13, 2008 and depicts Tubman striding forward despite roots pulling on the back of her skirt; these represent the roots of slavery. Her skirt is decorated with images representing the former slaves who she assisted to escape. The statue base features illustrations representing moments from her life, alternated with traditional quilting symbols. In 2004, the statue received a Public Design Commission Award for Excellence in Design.