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Harriet Tubman statue unveiled in Lake Placid

A statue of Underground Railroad heroine Harriet Tubman is now on display in Lake Placid.

The 13-foot-tall bronze statue by sculptor Wesley Wofford depicts Tubman stepping on the shackles of slavery. In one upraised arm she holds the North Star. In her other hand she reaches out with a key.

The statue has been placed adjacent to the grave of abolitionist John Brown. Before the ribbon cutting several people spoke about Tubman’s life and her historical importance. John Brown Lives! is an Adirondack-based human rights organization. Founder and Executive Director Martha Swan greeted the crowd before they gathered at the statue.

“Nearly 200 years ago John Brown and Harriet Tubman met in St. Catharines, Ontario. They certainly knew of one another. They highly regarded one another. They deeply admired one another. They became friends, comrades,” Swan said. “We are really interested in illuminating various aspects of Tubman’s genius, her honed survival skills, her deep religious faith, her friendships, her courage, her enduring commitment to community, to family, to her country through the end of her life.”

Ten-year-old Felicity Contreras wrote an essay for a history day project on Tubman.

“Harriet Tubman was an African-American woman who became famous because she helped lots of people escape slavery. She was noted for her perseverance and her bravery,” Contreras read from her essay. “I enjoyed learning about her and think she was an admirable woman.”

Vacationing in the Adirondacks, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand saw a flyer at a coffee shop about the statue and decided to come to the ribbon cutting with her son.

“I’ve been here before and I’m such a fan of the story of John Brown Farm but also of Harriet Tubman and the extraordinary leadership that she provided to a nation that needed leaders,” Gillibrand said. “And her story is powerful and I’m so grateful they are putting this statue in her honor to remind people that she was a beacon of hope. I was so inspired by her. I just want her story and legacy to serve as an inspiration for everyone. The great thing about having this here is that the North Country had a role in the Underground Railroad. We were part of the Railroad straight up to Canada.”

State Parks Chief Diversity Officer Yolanda Bostic Williams said this is part of the state’s effort to advance a whole history initiative to make certain that marginalized groups are more fully interpreted and integrated into historic sites.

“John Brown Farm is a crucial part of our system’s legacy ensuring that the story of this freedom fighter for human rights would be protected and nurtured for future generations,” explained Bostic Williams. “It is so fitting that we honor Harriet Tubman here at this sacred space as her and John Brown were friends, allies, spiritual siblings, role models and heroes in the fight for freedom. And in addition, special programming is going to highlight the skills that Aunt Harriet would have used during her career as a freedom fighter, a freedom seeker, a conductor, a nurse, a Union spy, a suffragist, a teacher and a cook. What an amazing legacy she has left us.”

The officials gathered in front of the statue and handed the scissors to 10-year-old Contreras to cut the ribbon unveiling the Beacon of Hope.

After the ribbon cutting, Swan watched as people gathered for pictures while others reached to touch Tubman’s outstretched hand.

“We’ve been told by Wesley Wofford, Wesley is the sculptor, that you can actually step up on the pedestal. You can hold Harriet’s hand. She’s here for us,” said Swan. “And for John and Harriet to be symbolically reunited in spirit and in our hearts is a very meaningful thing to so many of us.”

The Harriet Tubman Beacon of Hope statue will be at the John Brown Farm, two miles from downtown Lake Placid, through October. The Harriet Tubman Home is in Auburn in Cayuga County.