During a ceremony commemorating Juneteenth, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka announced the official renaming of Washington Park as Harriet Tubman Square and unveiled plans to create the Newark Arts and Education District.
According to a June 20 announcement, the new district was created “to enhance the 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,” Baraka said in a statement.
The mayor added that the district will serve Newark residents first as a center of entertainment and economic opportunity.
Baraka also said the renaming of the park “marks a pivotal moment acknowledging underrepresented histories that all Americans and Newark residents should value.” Following calls for racial representation in public art in 2020, city officials asked for design submissions for a new monument honoring Tubman and the state’s role in the Underground Railroad. In March, NJBIZ reported on funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Audible for the new Tubman monument for the park.
That statue – designed by Garden State artist and architect Nina Cooke John with support from Newark apprentice Adebunmi Gbadebo – will replace a statue of Christopher Columbus that the city removed in 2020. It is set to be unveiled this fall and serve as a centerpiece of the new Arts and Education District.
The city’s announcements were applauded by officials, dignitaries and business leaders, such as First Lady Tammy Murphy; U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr.; Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, D-28th District; Essex County Board of Commissioners President Wayne Richardson; Aisha Glover, vice president of Urban Innovation at Audible; Linda Harrison, Newark Museum of Art CEO and director; and Evan Weiss, president and CEO of the Newark Alliance.
“Today, we were able to witness Newark’s recognition of its history and the role that this location played in the Underground Railroad,” Tucker said in a statement. “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.”
Murphy added that, “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.
“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,” she added.
Major institutions in the new arts and education district 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.