Newly Renamed Harriet Tubman Square Marks Launch of Newark’s Arts, Education District

Joining Baraka for the renaming event were multiple prominent state and Newark politicians including First Lady Tammy Murphy, U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr., Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, Essex County Commissioner Wayne Richardson, and Central Ward Councilwoman LaMonica McIver.

The renaming of Washington Park comes just two years after Newark officials, residents and social justice advocates took to the streets to rally for racial justice and condemn the death of George Floyd. In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, the “Black Lives Matter” movement was elevated on an international scale with ensuing protests and calls for police reform measures.

Around the country, calls for social justice spurred the removal of Confederate statues and certain historical figures from public parks and government buildings, seen by many as symbols of tyranny and oppression.

In Newark, a statue of Christopher Columbus, the 15th-century explorer whose iron rule over the New World involved savage cruelty and enslavement of the Native American population, was removed from the former Washington Park at the height of global protests against racism. 

At the time of the statue’s dismounting, city officials announced that the park, located near the First Presbyterian Church on Broad Street which served as a stop along the Underground Railroad, would be named in Tubman’s honor. A new monument, which will also celebrate Tubman, is planned to replace the statue of Columbus.

“[This] began because of history,” Baraka said.

With New Jersey being the last northern state to abolish slavery completely, Murphy, the First Lady, noted that celebrating American icons like Tubman was critical to telling the full scope of the state’s history.

“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, homeownership, and to achieve equity in representation, health outcomes, and so much more,” Murphy said. “This is not just important, but it is our moral imperative.”

Alongside providing more civic representation in the community by celebrating Tubman, officials announced that the park would also serve as a contributing location for a newly launched “Newark Arts and Education District.” The initiative, officials said, will provide a central location in the city for cultural programming for residents and businesses.

“Cultural districts matter, and they make a difference because of their muli-dimensional values, especially when those values are defined by equity, sustainability, and flexibility,” said Linda Harrison, CEO of the Newark Museum of Art, a partner organization of the Newark Arts and Education District. “Art is at the heart of our communities, economy, identity, and our future. This newly established art and education district enables Newark to be a leader in our region, not only in our city.”

The initiative backs Newark officials’ efforts to activate and revitalize many of the city’s public spaces.

Last summer, the former Washington Park severed as a key location for the city’s “Summer in the Park” program. Throughout Newark, events featuring concerts, dances, movies, games, arts and crafts, picnics, food trucks, and health and wellness activities were hosted in Lincoln, Military and Riverfront parks, and Mulberry Commons.

Through the new Arts and Education District initiative, Baraka said he wants to see Newark’s public spaces rejuvenated so that more residents and visitors can revel in the city’s vibrant cultural community, “bringing everybody in the city together to converge in the community, which will be full of art and education."

“Prayerfully, they get so much art and education down here to be able to go back into the communities where they live and begin to spread it in those communities,” he said.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-06-21 03:36:12 -0700