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Harriet Tubman statue arrives in Philadelphia in time for her 200th birthday

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Emma Lee
Philadelphia unveils a statue of Harriet Tubman on the North Apron of City Hall.

Just in time for her 200th birthday, Harriet Tubman has arrived in Philadelphia.

Nine feet tall and bronze, “Harriet Tubman, The Journey to Freedom” was sculpted by Wesley Wofford and unveiled on the northeast corner of City Hall on Tuesday. The sculpture will reside there until the end of March when the city will celebrate the anniversary of her birth in March of 1822.

Mayor Jim Kenney said the statue has an important story to tell.

“Harriet Tubman’s incredible legacy of heroism, resilience, hope, and activism is a story we can all learn from as individuals as well as a community, Kenney said. “The presence of stories like these in the form of public art is vital for learning and reflection, connecting with our communities and understanding our mutual histories.”

The installation is more than just an art display, said Kelly Lee, the city’s Chief Cultural Officer.

“This traveling monument by sculptor Wesley Wofford represents Harriet Tubman’s courageous journey to free enslaved people. It beautifully illustrates her determination, despite the intense opposition, she faced.”

The city has planned dozens of events to coincide with the installation of the traveling bronze statue. The programming will include exhibits, screenings of the movie, “Harriet,” and a birthday party for Harriet.

The sculptor, Wesley Wofford of the Wofford Sculpture Studio, who created the depiction of Tubman bringing a child out of slavery, will also participate in panel discussions. Lee said the sculpture tells a specific story.

Tubman helped more than 70 people escape from slavery. The sculpture depicts the last person she brought to freedom, a child she ultimately adopted.

“But it’s also a universal story of what she represented and the determination that she had,” Lee noted.

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Emma Lee
Valerie Gay sings a medley of spirituals at the unveiling of the Harriet Tubman statue, ‘’The Journey to Freedom’’ at Philadelphia City Hall.

Wofford said that his touring sculpture sends a message at every stop.

“It’s really important that [public] statues reflect who we are as a whole,” he said.

His statue of Harriet is part of the solution, he noted.

“ There’s a huge cultural diversity gap in our public collections nationwide, and including the city of Philadelphia. And I think that’s starting to be corrected, and I think we’re going to see more of that coming in the future.”

In 2017, the city installed a statue of Octavius Catto, who was shot to death on South Street in 1871 while urging African Americans to exercise their right to vote. That statue is a permanent fixture on the apron of City Hall.

Read more from our partners, WHYY.

Alan was a Kroc Fellow at NPR and worked at WNPR as a reporter for three months. He is interested in everything from health and science reporting to comic books and movies. Before joining us, he studied journalism at Northwestern University, and worked at Psychology Today, NPR's Weekend Edition, and WBEZ in Chicago.
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