New Jersey city is replacing its Christopher Columbus statue with one honoring Harriet Tubman

Almost a year after a New Jersey city removed a statue of Christopher Columbus from its pedestal in a public square, the design for a replacement monument — a statue of Harriet Tubman — has been unveiled.  

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka announced the design of the monument Thursday after an open-call process began last winter to select an artist and concept. The monument, designed by Nina Cooke John, is expected to be installed next summer in Washington Park, which will be renamed Tubman Square.

“It is only fitting that we memorialize Tubman’s heroic efforts leading enslaved Africans to freedom via the Underground Railroad at this time of year when we celebrate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States,” Baraka said in a statement.

Having Tubman’s monument replace the statue of Columbus in Washington Park was “poetic,” Baraka told CBS News. 

He announced the design one day after the city unveiled a 700-pound bronze statue of George Floyd in front of city hall.

Both statues follow a year of protests after the murder of George Floyd, which prompted calls across the country to topple statues celebrating colonizers and slaveholders.

Some decisions have prompted backlash. 

Italian Americans and other residents of Randolph, a New Jersey town about 30 miles from Newark, recently expressed outrage over a local school board’s vote to wipe the the school calendar’s schedule of named holidays, including Columbus Day. After nearly four hours of jeers and accusations of “cancel culture” at a meeting, the board reversed its decision Monday.

Columbus Day Controversy: New Jersey school board reverses decision to scrap holiday names like Columbus Day

John’s design, called “Shadow of a Face,” sees Tubman Square as a place for people to learn about the abolitionist and Underground Railroad leader, according to the statement.

“As a woman, a Black woman, and mother of three girls, I am delighted to bring my memorial for Harriet Tubman to life in Newark,” John said in the statement. “My design creates a welcoming space for people to connect with Tubman as well as interact and reflect on their own liberation from whatever weight they might be carrying. This is a monument for the community and by the community.”

The circular monument, adorned with a ceramic mosaic of Tubman’s face, hopes to “guide visitors throughout a multisensory experience” and will include text highlighting the names of safe houses along the Underground Railroad in New Jersey.

Salamishah Tillet, a Rutgers University-Newark professor who served on the selection committee for the monument’s design, said John’s vision “reimagines what a monument can be,” according to the statement.

“Through her concept, she’s actively created a place where the community can gather, remember, learn, and even rest,” Tillet said in the statement. “Such spaces are rare and necessary now more than ever.”

You can see an illustration of the monument here. 

Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.

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