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Picture courtesy of Cayuga Museum
(Click picture to enlarge)


Harriet Tubman
"The Conductor"
By Carl A. Pierce
(click picture to enlarge)

 
 

Grant helps bring Tubman to life
By BARBARA J. ISENBERG
Bucks County Courier Times



Bringing Harriet Tubman to Bristol's waterfront isn't cheap.

But a recent $100,000 grant from two state legislators can defray the costs of sculpting a life-size monument to the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad.

The African-American Historical and Cultural Society of Bucks County, based in Bristol, is heading the project to build a 6-foot, 5-inch bronze statue of Tubman in Lions Park at the end of Mill Street.

With help from the state representatives Thomas Corrigan, D-140 (Bucks), and Dwight Evans, D-203 (Philadelphia), what was once the society's vision could more quickly become a reality. Each official organized a $50,000 grant for the project.

"Harriet Tubman is the most important person in Underground Railroad history and in African-American history," said Sidney Taylor, president of the African-American Historical and Cultural Society of Bucks County. "Without her, you almost don't have African-American history. That's why this monument is so important."

Tubman made 19 trips into the South and led more than 300 slaves to freedom by traveling at night and following the North Star. She worked for the Union during the Civil War and eventually settled in Auburn, N.Y., where she died in 1913.

"I was really surprised at what I did not know five years ago about Tubman," Corrigan said of his decision to help finance the monument. "I can't imagine a black lady traveling from the Deep South to Philadelphia or Bucks County in the 1840s. You have to be a very daring person. I am really enamored by what she's done."

Sculptor James Gafgen, of Morrisville, has just begun work on the full-scale sculpture of Tubman. Gafgen also sculpted the monument on Jefferson Avenue of Michael Dougherty, who received a Medal of Honor from Congress for fighting for the Union in the Civil War. Gafgen also created a statue of Robert Morris, founder of Morrisville and a financier of the Revolutionary War.

 

"She will look like she's stopped running and is slightly crouching, with her back bowed a little bit," Gafgen said. "She'll be looking to her left and pointing with her arm to the North Star, which, of course, will be very symbolic."

Gafgen said he loves to sculpt historical figures and "put back a piece of history."

"There's a certain personality to capture," he explained. "There's a very strong will to capture in Tubman. There has to be some kind of monument to show the gratitude of the families she led to freedom."

The grant won't quite cover the entire cost of the sculpture, though. Taylor and the society still need to raise another $50,000 to $75,000 to finish the project, which includes building 10 granite pillars engraved with quotes about freedom.

"Our idea is to have Harriet surrounded by these pillars, which will be shaped like a circle," Taylor said. "We haven't worked out all the details with the pillars, but we're considering quotes from Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, among other people."

It will take Gafgen about nine months to a year to finish what will be the only freestanding monument of Tubman in the country. Taylor hopes to have an unveiling in early 2006.

Corrigan represents Bristol, Morrisville, Tullytown, Falls, two districts in Bristol Township and one district in Middletown.

Barbara J. Isenberg can be reached at 215-949-4190 or bisenberg@phillyBurbs.com.

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