By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – Harriet Tubman knew deep in her heart and soul she was entitled to two things: freedom and death. “If I can’t have one, I will have the other,” she once rivetingly uttered.
The iconic abolitionist, suffragette, nurse, spy and much more spent most of her life arduously fighting for that elusive freedom, something she referred to as “sounding so good” and “a sweet dream.” Willing to sacrifice everything for its pursuance, Tubman relentlessly uplifted the virtues of liberation, legacy and truth to, for and by Black America. All of that-and much, much more is captured in the awe-inspiring nine foot bronze and steel sculpture of her and her daughter fleeing that now resides as a powerful symbol in the Newburgh Free Academy Courtyard.
Monday evening, amidst chilly temperatures and a large crowd of spectators warmed by the beautiful nature of the historic moment, the lofty structure was delicately transported down Upper Broadway, and then onto Grand Street, making its way to its destination in front of the Library, surrounded by other pieces of impressive artwork, including; The Newburgh Community Project’s “Unmasking the Truth,” Edison Project with Newburgh Enlarged City School District’s Freedom Quilt as well as another collaboration effort, an “Imagination Pavilion,” for artists and patrons.
The event was the kickoff to a host of others to follow (including Saturday’s Tubman’s tribute, also at the Library) made possible by a grant from the Humanities New York. In collaboration with the City of Newburgh civic leaders, a year, chock-filled with events and exhibits, will now unravel, detailing the story of the Hudson Valley’s powerful African-American history. More specifically, using the mediums of art, music, writing and conversation, the impact of black lives on the Newburgh community will come to the forefront, building a critical, healing, and uplifting understanding and awareness.
Throughout the month of October, the epicenter of that initiative will be on Tubman. Monday’s event also included a reenactment of Tubman speaking of the splendors and challenges, laden with consequential familial sacrifices, of seeking freedom as well as passionate singing and dancing numbers by Mvore Entertainment and an entire group sing along. Healers and activists concluded the ceremony with a moving closing circle.
And on hand was the Emmy and Academy Award-winning sculpture himself, Wesley Wofford. Not known to usually make appearances when his pieces are formally presented to the public, Wofford and his wife, Odyssey, just happened to have a meeting in Cambridge, Maryland, a pivotal and symbolic spot of Tubman’s journey, so the duo decided to continue on and make the trip to Newburgh Monday evening. They could not have been happier to have done so. Dubbing Monday night’s event absolutely beautiful, the couple was modest about the role they played in the whole equation.
“I just push the clay; I’m the filter who is trying to amplify Harriet’s voice; she is the quintessential American hero, who fills a void of Black American Cultural History, such an important gap that needs to close,” affirmed the sculptor of the piece. “People are finally waking up to the vital importance of showing underrepresented people in art in public spaces to see, and I’m just really hoping that this piece helps to inspire those who view it in some way.”