Inspire! Newark's Underground Railroad exhibition was organized on the occasion of the creation of the Harriet Tubman Monument.
Newark was honored by the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom with recognition of the former Plane Street Colored Church (renamed as the Frederick Douglass Field).
Newark Honors its Underground Railroad History with A Symbolic Monument of Harriet Tubman
“Slavery is the next thing to hell.”
— Harriet Tubman (1855)
Welcome to this exhibition!
In 1998, United States Congress acknowledged that “The Underground Railroad, which flourished from the end of the 18th century to the end of the Civil War, was one of the most significant expressions of the American civil rights movement during its evolution over more than three centuries.” Those expressions of freedom happened in Newark, too.
Shadow of a Face, A Harriet Tubman Monument by artist and architect Nina Cooke John celebrates the history of the Underground Railroad movement in Newark. The Underground Railroad was the organized network of like-minded Black and White abolitionists activists who helped enslaved people in their search for freedom. Rising over two stories, the Tubman monument is a symbol of Newark’s civil rights heritage, which dates to the city’s Black abolitionists’ public struggles to end slavery.
The monument is built near the former home of Governor Marcus Ward (a Newark native), who secured New Jersey’s ratification of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. More importantly, the monument is sited in an area that once was an African American enclave—a symbolic reminder that despite vested interests in slavery in the city, Newark’s free and enslaved Black activists fought fearlessly to abolish the institution.
It is only the eighth of public monuments in New Jersey that honor women as leaders, Shadow of a Face celebrates Tubman as the stellar face of the Underground Railroad movement. She was a courageous humanist, soldier, Union Army spy, racial justice crusader, nurse, philanthropist, women’s right advocate, and an extraordinary guide to freedom.
But she did not act alone.
Be inspired and inspire!
- Noelle Lorraine Williams, Curator and Researcher, Inspire! Newark's Underground Railroad
A map of some of the countless streets, buildings, and people connected to slavery in Newark curated by Black Power! 19th Century by Noelle Lorraine Williams.
"A History of Our Culture" was written and narrated by Margie "Mia X" Johnson in the winter of 2023 for Inspire! Newark's Underground Railroad Exhibition on the occasion of the creation of the Harriet Tubman Monument by artist and architect, Nina Cooke John at Harriet Tubman Square in downtown Newark in the Newark Arts and Education District.
This pop-up exhibition Inspire! Newark's Underground Railroad at the Newark Public Library was curated on the occasion of the creation of the monument Shadow of a Face, A Harriet Tubman Monument by Nina Cooke John.
Like Harriet Tubman, Newark’s Underground Railroad activists’ courageous fight against slavery—despite entrenched interests in the institution in the city—inspired Black and multiracial civil rights activism.
The statue of Harriet Tubman portrays her as a larger-than-life figure, while also making her bravery and strength of character accessible.
As you walk around the monument, explore the tiles created by local residents and hear Newark's own Queen Latifah and others narrate stories about Tubman and the city’s history of Black liberation.
In the exhibition Inspire! Newark's Underground Railroad the exhibition concludes with some of Newark photographers who have documented culture and activism in the city over the past 50 years.
Thank you to John Matturi, Jillian M. Rock, Stafford Woods, Cesar Melgar and Tanisha Best for sharing their work.
Download coloring pages and activities for youth connected to Newark's Black Liberation history.
Newark Public Library, Newark, NJ
Please join us at the Inspire! Newark's Underground Railroad pop-up exhibition for refreshments and brief comments by historian and artist Noelle Lorraine Williams.
*Required registration above.
Whose American Revolution? The Stories of Slavery and Indigenous History in the Monuments of Harriet Tubman Square
Join us for a walking tour of Harriet Tubman Square to illuminate the various ways in which the park’s 18th and 19th-century statues and monuments connect with stories of Black slavery and freedom and Indigenous history.
*Registration required above
Panel and Gallery Visit
Hosted by Newark History Society
Newark Public Library, Newark, NJ
Please join us for a panel Black Liberation: Seeking Freedom in 18th and 19th Century Newark featuring Noelle Lorraine Williams and Dr. James Amemasor. Also visit the Inspire! Newark's Underground Railroad pop-up exhibition