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Philadelphia is getting a permanent Harriet Tubman sculpture

The famed abolitionist has a strong connection to Philadelphia.

The unveiling of the Harriet Tubman statue at City Hall on January 11. The sculpture was created by Wesley Wofford.
The unveiling of the Harriet Tubman statue at City Hall on January 11. The sculpture was created by Wesley Wofford.Read moreTHOMAS HENGGE / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia will soon have a new, permanent sculpture honoring abolitionist Harriet Tubman, and it will be larger than the 9-foot statue that is now temporarily at City Hall, city officials announced Thursday.

The city’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy said that it has commissioned the sculpture to honor Tubman’s legacy because the temporary statue proved to be so popular. Artist Wesley Wofford, who created City Hall’s Harriet Tubman — The Journey to Freedom, will also helm the new sculpture, which will become part of the city’s permanent public art collection.

“The sculpture will represent the values of activism, heroism, equality, resilience, and more that we want inspiring all who visit City Hall,” Mayor Jim Kenney said.

U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D., Pa.)announced Thursday that he would introduce legislation to the House of Representatives that would create a federal holiday in Tubman’s name. That effort, the city said, was initiated by a grassroots, door-to-door effort in Philly started by Jeannine Cook, owner of Harriet’s Bookshop in Fishtown.

Wofford’s current statue of Tubman debuted on the North Apron of City Hall in January, where it will stay through the end of this month in honor of the famed historical figure’s 200th birthday, as well as Black History and Women’s History Months. The city has also celebrated Tubman’s life and legacy with more than 40 virtual and in-person programs over the past two months.

A traveling exhibition, the sculpture arrived in Philadelphia after a run on display in Sylva, N.C. It will next head to White Plains, N.Y.

Tubman’s connection to Philadelphia is strong. In 1849, she came to the city after escaping slavery in Maryland, and spoke at Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church. She also would go on to use the Underground Railroad’s network of homes and churches in the city to free about 70 enslaved people from Maryland.

Wofford’s monument at City Hall incorporates that history in its design, with the sculpture’s base showing the Pennsylvania state line and the Maryland-Delaware Peninsula. Tubman is also depicted leading a girl to freedom as she leaves a set of shackles behind her on the portion of the base that represents Maryland, with Tubman placing a foot on the Pennsylvania border.

The city did not announce when the new statue would debut. But the OACCE encouraged Philadelphians to give their input on the sculpture’s concept by sharing the values of Tubman that inspire them via the #PhillyLovesHarriet campaign hashtag on social media.