The city of Philadelphia has chosen a new design for a Harriet Tubman statue outside City Hall after facing criticism over its initial selection of a white artist for the project without holding a competition, NBC News reports.
Alvin Pettit, a Baltimore-bred artist based in Jersey City, New Jersey, emerged as the winner among four other semifinalists. Pettit’s winning design, “A Higher Power: The Call of a Freedom Fighter,” features a nearly 14-foot bronze statue of Harriet Tubman, the first of a Black woman who is a historical figure in the city’s public art collection.
“She is shown in majestic prayer. Perhaps she is calling upon her faith or contemplating a battle,” said Pettit at a news conference Monday where a model of the forthcoming sculpture was unveiled.
“This woman was a soldier, a scout, a union spy, a military strategist, and a war hero,” he said. “Therefore, I captured a moment in time that shows her as a conqueror,” he said.
Last year, city officials offered the commission to another artist, Wesley Wofford, a white sculptor from North Carolina, without holding an open competition. That sparked controversy and led to protests from artists and activists who advocated for an open competition, especially to offer Black artists an opportunity to create a piece of public art.
“As an artist, it’s hurtful, and it is traumatizing,” Dee Jones, a textile artist, told city officials and Wofford during a community meeting in June 2022, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. “If it was an open call, and Wesley was chosen, it would be fine. But because the process wasn’t open, that’s the big issue.”
Consequently, Wofford withdrew from the project, leading the city to issue an open call that attracted numerous submissions. The public had an opportunity to weigh in on the finalists, and the final selection was made by city officials, including members of Tubman’s family on the African American Statue Advisory Committee.
Pettit, known for creating monumental sculptures celebrating historical Black figures like Mary McLeod Bethune and Marian Anderson, designed the statue portraying Tubman with folded hands in prayer, a rifle on her back, standing on broken shackles with a pistol tucked in her waistband, and the Confederate flag visible under her foot. The detailed depiction was appreciated by Tubman’s descendant, Danetta Green Johnson, for its portrayal of bravery, strength, and resilience.
The $500,000 project is scheduled to be completed in 2025.