Why Is Harriet Tubman Facing South?

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A new 10-foot-tall bronze statue of Harriet Tubman in Harlem, part of a $2.8 million project, is being formally dedicated by the city at 1 p.m. on Thursday, but the work has confounded some observers because Tubman appears to be striding determinedly south, rather than heading north toward freedom.

The blog Uptown Flavor asked why the statue faces south and generated strong responses from readers who said the decision reflected ignorance or intellectual laziness. A viewer on the Web site for Current, a user-generated television and video network, asked of the statue, “Was it mounted wrong?”

Tubman (1822-1913), a runaway slave and conductor of the Underground Railroad who was called Moses by the people she helped free during her trips between the South and the North, also supported women’s right to vote. Her nighttime missions, with the North Star as a guide, started in the slaveholding state of Maryland and typically ended in Canada.

So why does the new two-ton statue of Tubman — her sense of purpose so strong that she pulls up roots as she walks along — have her facing south?

“She’s best known for her sojourns north,” said Alison Saar, the sculptor of the work, titled “Swing Low,” “but what is most impressive to me are her trips south, where she risked her own freedom.”

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