7. Swing Low: Harriet Tubman Memorial

Harriet Tubman sculpture

The Harriet Tubman Memorial by African-American artist Alison Saar honors the legacy of the Underground Railroad icon. The granite base of the monument is adorned with bronze tiles that portray events in Tubman’s life and traditional quilt patterns of her culture. Faces are depicted on the skirt of Harriet Tubman, representing the anonymous passengers of the Underground Railroad. Some of the faces are actually inspired by West African “passport masks” which were used as powerful charms that would protect their owners during travel. Commissioned by Department of Cultural Affairs’ Percent for Art program, Swing Low stands at the crossroads of St. Nicholas Avenue, West 122nd Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem.

Harriet Tubman is renown for her fight against the abolition of slavery. The memorial is meant to show Harriet Tubman not as a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad but as the actual locomotive: an indomitable force for her cause. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and then risked her life in order to help other slaves make the trip to freedom.