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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Dorchester County Celebrates Harriet Tubman with a New, Bronze Sculpture

Governor Larry Hogan officially proclaimed 2022 as “The Year of Harriet Tubman” in Maryland. While the state celebrates the 200th anniversary of the freedom fighter’s birth, the people of Dorchester County will soon have a statue of their own to claim.  Harriet Tubman—also known as Araminta Ross—was born enslaved in Dorchester County, Maryland. She later escaped slavery and made numerous trips as a conductor of the Underground Railroad who helped others to gain their freedom.

The abolitionist’s passion and legacy will be celebrated through a 12-foot bronze sculpture called “Beacon of Hope.” It will be placed on Dorchester County Courthouse’s lawn permanently. Adrian Holmes, the founder and director of Alpha Genesis Community Development Corporation (AGCDC), recently visited Texas to see the statue. Holmes also placed the final gold leaf of the sculpture of Tubman before it was prepared to be transported by truck to Cambridge.

Adrian Holmes applies the final sheet of gold leaf on the “Beacon of Hope” hand. Photo courtesy of Wofford Sculpture Studio

Both April Byrd, the vice president of AGCDC, and Holmes said that a traveling statue called “Journey to Freedom” sparked the idea for Dorchester to have a representation of Tubman after it visited Cambridge, Maryland. Byrd added that the sculpture was temporarily displayed at the courthouse for 30 days.

“That kind of just sparked all kinds of emotions with the people from the city of Cambridge, because when she [“Journey to Freedom”] came, I didn’t think it was going to be so emotionally moving, but it really was. People were literally upset when she had to be hoisted back on the truck to leave,” Byrd said, recalling the experience that occurred in 2020. “I remember the day that they came to pick her up and hoist her back onto the truck. People literally started crying.”

Byrd added that people began saying, “Look, we need our own statue. Harriet belongs to Dorchester County.”

Community discussion led to the creation of a statue specifically for Tubman’s birthplace. Holmes, who is a Cambridge resident, added that AGCDC is a Dorchester County, Maryland-based nonprofit that focuses on bringing culture and arts to the community. It led the project to bring a permanent sculpture to Dorchester County Courthouse where slave auctions were once held. Meetings were held to attempt to understand why having a permanent statue would be important to community members. The consensus led to the public art project that is intended to uplift and not shun the truth of Tubman’s journey through whitewashing.

“All of those components shine brightly in this ‘Beacon of Hope,’” Holmes said. “Everything that we wanted to say about us as a community is here in this sculpture.”

Byrd added that fundraising and grants were required to bring the vision to fruition. The project’s cost surpassed a quarter of a million dollars. Byrd noted that Holmes took on the Tubman project without hesitation. The commitment to honor Tubman required conversation, trips to Cambridge, site visits and planning that led to physical construction of the clay study before the statue came to life. It was a two-year process.

Wesley Wofford, a full-time sculptor based in North Carolina, said that he was commissioned to help translate the community’s desires to represent the rich history of Cambridge and Tubman’s connection to a painful history. The collaborative process required Wofford and other artisans to work on the “Beacon of Hope.” He described the statue as a two-figure group. It includes a representation of Araminta as a little girl, then Tubman as an adult who found “the strength within herself to become that future, heroic woman.”

The Fourth Annual Day of Resilience featuring the dedication of the “Beacon of Hope,” which is free and open to the public, will begin at noon on Saturday, September 10, 2022.  It will be held on the Dorchester County Courthouse’s lawn, located at 206 High St., Cambridge, Md.  

“This is historical. This is the bicentennial of Harriet Tubman’s birthyear,” Byrd said, mentioning that the statue unveiling is a once in a lifetime event.  “It took 200 years to get her back to Dorchester County in a place of honor.”

Byrd said that attendees should anticipate large crowds and street closures. Early arrival is recommended. Bringing a chair is suggested to sit during the two-hour long ceremony. The featured keynote speaker will be Samuel C. Still III. He is a descendant of the Civil War abolitionist William Still.

Visit https://alphagenesiscdc.org/  to learn more about the ceremony and a weekend full of family-friendly activities from Friday, September 9 to Sunday, September 11, 2022.

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