Philadelphia Art Commission approves work to begin on Harriet Tubman statue

Alvin Pettit’s statue design, “A Higher Power: The Call of a Freedom Fighter,” was selected from five finalists in a year-long process.

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Artist Alvin Pettit talks in the background. In the foreground is his design for the Harriet Tubman statue.

Artist Alvin Pettit talks about his concept for a statue of Harriet Tubman. She is armed with a long gun across her back and a sword and pistol in her belt. She stands on a mound of chains and shackles. Her hands are clenched in prayer. (Emma :Lee/WHYY)

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The Philadelphia Art Commission has officially selected the Harriet Tubman statue that will be placed outside City Hall in the coming years.

On Wednesday, the vote was made unanimously, which was needed for the city of Philadelphia to begin the contracting process with artist Alvin Pettit.

“Harriet Tubman was a beacon of light at a dark time in our nation’s history, and she helped Black people find freedom through the Underground Railroad,” Mayor Cherelle Parker said in a release. “Her recognition and this work of art in her honor, created by an artist of color, is overdue and welcomed. Hundreds of thousands will see this sculpture every year outside City Hall. As the first ever woman mayor of Philadelphia, and as a Black woman, I am thrilled that the first piece of public art to be approved under this administration will be this statue of a Black woman who fought for freedom here in Philadelphia — Harriet Tubman.”

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Pettit’s statue design, “A Higher Power: The Call of a Freedom Fighter,” was selected from five finalists in a year-long process by the African American Historic Statue Advisory Committee in October 2023 following controversy over the initial selection process. The design showcases Tubman standing steadfast against strong headwinds with her fists clenched in prayer.

According to the release, the statue will honor Tubman as a leader, Civil War hero and the first woman to lead an armed military operation in the United States. It’s inspired by the 1863 “Raid at Combahee Ferry,” when Tubman led 150 Black Union soldiers into battle and rescued more than 700 enslaved people.

“It is appropriate that this statue portraying Harriet Tubman as a strong soldier is located on the apron of City Hall where two other statues of Civil War soldiers stand,” OACCE Public Art Director Marguerite Anglin said.

The sculpture is planned to be completed in 2025 and will stand at least 15 feet tall.

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