Harriet Tubman’s ‘Shadow of a Face’: New Monument Advances Inclusive History

Friday, March 10, is Harriet Tubman Day, which marks the 110th anniversary of Harriet Tubman’s passing on March 10, 1913. Last year, we celebrated Tubman’s bicentennial birthday with Ms. magazine’s Tubman 200 project. Today, we continue in the celebration of our Black feminist hero as we recognize the latest Harriet Tubman Monument. Designed by artist Nina Cooke John, Shadow of a Face opened to the public yesterday in Newark, N.J., in Harriet Tubman Square, renamed from Washington Park on Juneteenth of 2022. 

The new Harriet Tubman monument replaces a statue of Christopher Columbus, which was removed in 2020. Newark’s arts and cultural affairs director Fayemi Shakur said the city’s choice to replace of a symbol of conquest with “an ideal figure for democracy and freedom” is part of a larger project of healing. 

‘Dark Energy’: Poetry for Harriet Tubman

Last year marked 200 years since Harriet Tubman’s birth. To commemorate Tubman’s bicentennial, Ms. magazine launched the Tubman 200 project, honoring her extraordinary legacy.

The multi-disciplinary project included: conversations with Tubman’s descendants; an interactive timeline of Tubman’s life; essays from experts including Dr. Keisha N. Blain and Kate Clifford Larson; a calculator that determines what the U.S. (literally) owes Tubman; a portal for readers to submit their own haikus celebrating Tubman’s legacy; and original poetry—including the show-stopping “dark energy” by scholar and poet Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

A Conversation with Mary N. Elliott, Curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian Museum

Our final conversation in the Harriet Tubman Bicentennial Project features Mary N. Elliott, museum specialist and curator of American slavery at the Smithsonian Museum. Elliott helped to research, conceptualize and design the “Slavery and Freedom” inaugural exhibition for Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“Who is this woman beyond the iconic? That was really important for us: to humanize the experiences of African Americans and to also show that we’re not monolithic.”

Justice and the Meaning of the Tubman $20

A white supremacist and sexist society has consistently relegated Black women to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. Harriet Tubman, dubbed “the Moses of her people,” was no exception. She gave so much to the nation, yet in the years following the Civil War, Tubman struggled financially.

From persistent economic and housing insecurity to the highest infant mortality rates in the nation, Black women shoulder many of the same challenges Tubman endured in her lifetime. Let us work towards making these injustices a priority by the time Tubman appears on the redesigned $20.

Using Archaeology to Rediscover Harriet Tubman’s Life in Freedom

Archaeological and historic records related to Harriet Tubman’s life in freedom indicate that she was a resilient woman with deep spiritual beliefs and a willingness to open her home and to offer her resources to others. Despite obstacles, with the help of the AME Zion Church, and an array of supporters, Tubman created a special place where aging and homeless African Americans could find shelter and freedom from want.

The archaeological record recovered at the Harriet Tubman Home serves to remind us to move with deliberate action and to pursue freedom and dignity on behalf of others.   

Karen V. Hill, Director of the Harriet Tubman Home: ‘She Was Able To Separate the Brutality of Slavery From How She Loved the Land’

Karen V. Hill is president and CEO of the Harriet Tubman Home, Inc. in Auburn, N.Y. She has successfully pursued federal legislation to have Harriet Tubman’s homestead become one of the newest units of the National Park Service.

“To me that’s just startling, that this place in Maryland where she had been treated so harshly, she was able to separate the brutality of slavery from how she loved the land.”

The Two Harriets

The iconic figure of Harriet Tubman supersedes the factual details of her life: There is the real Harriet Tubman and there is how she is remembered, which looms larger. In most of the surviving photographs of Tubman, we see her as a stoic freedom fighter and abolitionist. However, in 2017, a recently discovered photograph of her was auctioned at Swann Galleries, and it shows us a new side of Tubman: a younger, more feminine Tubman, dressed on trend for the 1860s. Perhaps this photo represents a more hopeful Harriet Tubman forging a life post-emancipation.  

Harriet Tubman in the Art of Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold’s art on Harriet Tubman is an illustration of her capacity as an artist for taking somber stories and turning them into stories of triumph, victory and joy. 

Faith (my mother) is a fabulist whose real interest is in projecting her ideas into the future. The older I get, the more I appreciate my mother’s art, in particular her insistence upon rendering the most apparently despairing circumstances of our histories as Black folk as opportunities for spiritual and magical transcendence.