Boston Art Commission

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  • Inscription on the back of the memorial.

Step on Board / Harriet Tubman Memorial

Artist:

Fern Cunningham

Location:

Harriet Tubman Park, at Pembroke St. and Columbus Ave.  

Location

Harriet Tubman Park, at Pembroke St. and Columbus Ave.
United States
42° 20' 36.4344" N, 71° 4' 40.3104" W

Neighborhood:

South End

Type:

Sculpture

Year:

1999

Medium:

Bronze

Collection:

Funders:

The Browne Fund

Description:

Meet the first statue on city-owned property honoring a woman. This 10-foot bronze statue is dedicated to the memory of Harriet Tubman, the famous abolitionist and Underground Railroad ‘conductor.’ Born around 1820—her exact date of birth is unknown—Tubman spent the first 28 years of her life toiling in the household and fields of the Maryland plantation where she had been born. When the plantation’s owner died, Tubman escaped, following the North Star and stopping at various Underground Railroad ‘stations’ along the 90-mile journey to Pennsylvania.

But Tubman did not remain safely in the North for long. Within a year, she returned to Maryland to help members of her family escape. What began as a plot to reunite her family became a broader mission to free as many people as possible, personal relations as well as strangers. Over the next decade, Tubman took nineteen trips to the South, guiding over 300 individuals to freedom. Although she was illiterate and received no formal education, Tubman became known as one of the most adroit Underground Railroad conductors. A $40,000 reward was posted for her capture.

Here, local sculptor Fern Cunningham shows Tubman leading a small group up north. She strides forward confidently, with a Bible tucked under her left arm—a reference to both her religious devotion and her Biblical nickname, Moses. Interestingly, the men and women behind her appear calm and assured. Perhaps their journey is coming to an end, or perhaps their expressions are not literal but symbolic, illustrating the spirit of courage and devotion that drove Tubman on.

Although Tubman never lived in Boston, she had links to the city through her network of abolitionist friends, one of whom opened the Harriet Tubman House as a settlement house for black women who had migrated from the South. The house has since relocated, but it still exists today as part of the United South End Settlements program.

The other artwork located in the Harriet Tubman Park is Emancipation by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, one of the leading female artists of the Harlem Renaissance movement. Fuller created this work in 1913 for a New York exposition celebrating the 50th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s order abolishing slavery.

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