One of the most well-known African Americans of the nineteenth century, Harriet Tubman (1822 - 1913) has been and is memorialized through her name, which adorns numerous schools, roads, bridges, parks, and plaques in the United States and Canada.
Harriet Tubman Public School, St Catharines, Ontario. Photograph by Renée Ater, October 2019.
She is equally well represented in sculpture. Nearly twenty monuments and memorials dedicated to Tubman dot the American and Canadian landscape. Part of a burgeoning interest in the famous Underground Railroad conductor, cities and communities have claimed and recognized Tubman for her resistance to slavery and her commitment to equal rights for African Americans, women, and the elderly.
Alison Saar, Swing Low: Harriet Tubman Memorial, 2008, New York City. Photograph by Renée Ater.
As early as 1914, residents of her hometown of Auburn, New York, dedicated a memorial plaque to her and placed it on the exterior entrance wall of the Cayuga County Courthouse. At the top of the plaque is a portrait of Tubman; the text below it reads in part: "Called the 'Moses' of her people during the Civil War, with rare courage, she led over three hundred Negroes up from slavery to freedom, and rendered invaluable service as nurse and spy."
Harriet Tubman Plaque, 1914, Cayuga County Courthouse, Auburn, New York. Photograph by Renée Ater.
Eighty years would pass before Tubman was reclaimed as an important historic figure and monuments erected to honor her legacy. In his Underground Railroad Memorial (1994), Ed Dwight included a figure of Tubman guiding freedom seekers in the massive multifigural sculpture. His monument is one of the first to acknowledge Tubman's important role as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
Ed Dwight, Underground Railroad Memorial, 1994, Battle Creek, Michigan
Harriet Tubman Monuments (an Omeka site) includes images of monuments, photographs of Tubman, archival documents, maps, and photographs of the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Auburn, New York (two places where Tubman lived). These images ca be found in "Items" and "Collections on the menu bar.
I have input geolocation data for all the monuments. Select "Map" on the menu bar. It will pull up a map of the United States and Canada. Blue pin-shaped icons mark the locations of the monuments.
Fern Cunningham, Step on Board: Harriet Tubman Memorial, 1999, Boston. Photograph by Renée Ater.
I first became interested in Tubman and her memorialization when I encountered Fern Cunningham's Step On Board on a visit to Boston in 2009. The digital exhibit "Monument and Myth: Commemorating Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad" reflects my ongoing fascination with Tubman. Select "Exhibits" on the menu bar to read "Monument and Myth." In this digital exhibition, I have told the story of Tubman's life; given a brief history of the Underground Railroad and her important role as a conductor and liberator; outlined the photographic representation of Tubman; and, last but not least, focused on several contemporary monuments that commemorate her.
"The Language of Slavery" tab on the menu bar delivers you to a page of terminology related to slavery. I have adopted this vocabulary from the National Park Service's What is the Underground Railroad?
This site is part of Contemporary Monuments to the Slave Past. Please visit https://www.slaverymonuments.org to learn about the larger project.
Navigate the site by selecting an item from the menu bar across the top of the screen, below the title bar.
Written by Renée Ater
May 20, 2020