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Monday, October 18, 2021

Harriet Tubman Sculpture Arrives In Sylva

A sculpture of underground railroad activist Harriet Tubman now sits in the middle of Sylva. (WLOS)

By Rex Hodge

SYLVA, N.C. (WLOS) — A sculpture of underground railroad activist Harriet Tubman now sits in the middle of Sylva. A dedication ceremony will take place Sunday afternoon from 2-4 p.m.

Organizers hope with its arrival, comes more unity.

The President of the Jackson County NAACP says having the sculpture of Harriet Tubman in Sylva can facilitate cultural understanding and create a space for dialogue.

“This is the first time in the five years that I’ve lived here in Sylva that I see a work of art that really represents me,” says Dr. Dana Murray Patterson.

The arrival of the Tubman sculpture is emotional for Murray Patterson.

“It means everything,” she says.

The sculpture is 9-feet tall and 2,400 pounds. It’s made of bronze – a tough metal symbolically depicting the toughness of Harriet Tubman.

Tubman was a former slave during the Civil War who escaped to the north. She returned 13 times to the south to rescue about 70 enslaved people along the Underground Railroad.

Murray Patterson hopes the sculpture’s display at Bridge Park helps bring people together.

“Art gives us a focal point so we can find some commonality,” she says.

Cashiers artist Wesley Wofford created the sculpture, lacing history into it.

“The lower section represents sort of a low point in American history and slavery and the shackles, the upper plane represents her freedom. The child’s left hand is fear. The right hand is trust. Harriet’s are protection and determination,” explained Wofford.

“I’m thinking about all the kids that are going to see this and that this is going to resonate, and this is going to become a story that they love. They fall in love with Harriet Tubman’s story,” says Murray Patterson.

The Confederate statue known as Sylva Sam isn’t too far away. Workers Monday covered the Confederate flag and were adding plaques acknowledging local citizens who died in the Civil War and display the words E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one.

Both Wofford and Murray Patterson expect the nearby pieces of art to spark conversation.

“I’m curious to see if it elicits a dialogue and what that dialogue is,” Wofford says.

“You can see the movement in this art. And so, that makes me feel like progress, it’s on the horizon,” says Murray Patterson.

Patterson says there’s still work for America to live up to her promise.

“It does take all of us to journey towards freedom together,” she says.

The statue will stay in Sylva until mid-December, then go on to Philadelphia.

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