Mayor Ras J. Baraka hosted a ceremony this week to re-name Washington Park as Harriet Tubman Square and announce plans to create the Newark Arts and Education District, at the square, to mark Juneteenth. The mission of the new district will be to enhance the many downtown arts and educational institutions, galleries, parks, public art, and restaurants that contribute to the city’s cultural legacy and inclusive economic development.
“By enhancing the cultural value of the City’s creative and economic life through collaboration, education, community inclusion, and innovation, residents and local businesses will benefit from a new vision for the area defined by arts, culture, equity, and sustainability; attracting more investment and liveable communities. The key is to ensure that the District serves Newark residents first, both as a center of fun and economic opportunity. The renaming of the park as Harriet Tubman Square marks a pivotal moment acknowledging underrepresented histories that all Americans and Newark residents should value,” Mayor Baraka said.
“Today, as Mayor Baraka renames this park in Harriet Tubman’s honor, we, as New Jerseyans, can feel pride in our state’s role in the Underground Railroad. At the same time, however, we cannot forget that New Jersey was the last of all northern states to abolish slavery,” said First Lady Tammy Murphy.“There is no doubt that the effects of that evil continue to ripple through our communities today, making our work to expand opportunity in business, education, and homeownership, and to achieve equity in representation, health outcomes, and much more not just important, but our moral imperative.”
Major institutions in the Arts and Education District currently include the Newark Museum of Art, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark Symphony Hall, Rutgers-Newark, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Prudential Arena, Seton Hall Law School, Newark School of the Arts, and Mulberry Commons, among others.
“It was an honor and privilege to stand next to Mayor Baraka on this second Juneteenth to also celebrate the re-naming of Washington Park to Harriet Tubman Square. Today, we remember that liberty and freedom are the precious birthright of all Americans and must be guarded and preserved for all people,” said Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. “As we reflect on this significant day, let us remember that exactly 156 years ago, 250,000 enslaved men, women, and children learned of their freedom, two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This historic day in our city’s history is an attempt to right previous wrongs, by honoring the legacy and spirit of Harriet Tubman, a woman who exemplifies the perseverance that has become the hallmark of the African American experience and the ongoing struggle for equality. I am a committed partner in this fight. I look forward to watching future generations gather here in Harriet Tubman Square, cultivating and contributing to the artistic creativity that will surely foster social and political change for generations to come.”
“This past Sunday, we all celebrated Juneteenth and today I had the privilege to continue that celebration while standing beside Mayor Baraka during the renaming of Washington Park to Harriet Tubman Square. Today, we were able to witness Newark’s recognition of its history and the role that this location played in the Underground Railroad. I hope that Harriet Tubman Square will serve as a beacon of change, an acknowledgement of our collective past, and pride in our promised future. Let all of those who come to enjoy this park, continue to spark the change that will push not only this great city but our nation forward,” said State Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker.
“This is a bright day in the history of Newark, New Jersey, as we continue to recognize the true heroes of America, and tell the story of America through the experiences of African Americans and other oppressed people,” said Essex County Board of Commissioners President Wayne L. Richardson. “It is only right and fitting that the City of Newark, where the population is approximately 50 percent Black or African American, designate this space, in the heart of the city, to honor the most renowned woman freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman, who was born enslaved, but refused to be a slave, and who put God and humanity before her own personal safety.”
“Audible is honored to work with the City of Newark to share the trailblazing histories of Harriet Tubman and its own Newark residents,” said Aisha Glover, Vice President of Urban Innovation at Audible. “By creating an immersive audio experience alongside this new monument, Audible celebrates the life and legacy of Harriet Tubman and amplifies Newark’s own history with the Underground Railroad and free Black communities.”
“The Newark Arts and Education District is about to fundamentally change Newark. Cultural districts matter and have grown rapidly all around the world as their unique contribution to urban life has been more fully understood,” said Linda Harrison, Newark Museum of Art CEO and Director. “We here at the Newark Museum of Art believe the City of Newark can transcend convention and redefine the quintessential Newark experience by initiating a transformative new chapter for the city.”
The district will provide residents and visitors with a central location for cultural programming and arts education, and as well as encourage more collaborations and partnerships in Newark. Residents and local businesses will benefit from district-wide improvements such as rezoning, improved permit processes, and shuttle service to help residents citywide connect with downtown events.
“The Newark Alliance’s mission of driving inclusive economic growth for all of Newark will be immeasurably strengthened by working to realize Mayor Baraka’s creative vision of an Arts and Education District, anchored in downtown Newark,” said Evan Weiss, President and CEO of the Newark Alliance. “Arts and education represent two of the fastest growing parts of the city and national economy and both present incredible career opportunities for Newarkers – at the entry level and for more seasoned professionals.”
As part of the announcement, the Mayor officially renamed Washington Park as Harriet Tubman Square. Following calls for racial justice and representation in civic public art in 2020, the City issued a public call for designs for a new monument honoring Harriet Tubman and New Jersey’s role in the Underground Railroad to be the new centerpiece for the re-named square, replacing a statue of Christopher Columbus removed by the City in summer 2020.
The new monument, designed by New Jersey artist and architect Nina Cooke John with support from Newark-based apprentice artist Adebunmi Gbadebo, is proposed to be unveiled in fall 2022 and serve as a community gathering space and a centering point for the new Arts and Education District. The Tubman monument and other improvements to Harriet Tubman Square are currently under review by the New Jersey Historical Preservation Office. Ms. Cooke John joined the dignitaries at the event.
The monument – a project of the Mellon Foundation’s Presidential Initiatives informed by Mellon’s national Monuments Project – will include a learning wall and community mosaic with clay tiles designed by Newark residents during a series of art-making workshops conducted in partnership with the Newark Museum of Art, as well as an auditory visitor experience detailing Newark’s contribution to the abolitionist movement as well as community stories of liberation, developed in partnership with Audible.