Black Artist To Create Harriet Tubman Statue At Philadelphia’s City Hall Following Controversy
Baltimore-bred artist Alvin Pettit won a competition to have his version of a Harriet Tubman statue placed on the northeast apron outside Philadelphia’s City Hall.
The statue is expected to be finished by 2025, city officials said, according to CBS News. The art project has a budget of $500,000 coming from Philadelphia’s operating budget. The money will cover payment for Pettit, site work and modeling, engineering and materials, and fabrication costs.
The open call for the contest, announced in August 2022, brought in nearly 3,000 total submissions and came about after a controversy, according to another report by CBS News.
Black artists and activists protested when the city initially contacted a white sculptor to build the statue without a competition. The white artist, Wesley Wofford, had previously displayed a traveling sculpture of Tubman at Philadelphia’s City Hall in 2017. Textile artist Dee Jones said in a 2022 community meeting that it was “hurtful” that the city had not given other artists the opportunity to have their work considered for the public art project, CBS News reported.
Wofford dropped out of the running, and Pettit’s nearly 14-foot bronze statue, titled A Higher Power: The Call of a Freedom Fighter, won over four other semifinalists. A small model of the statue appeared at a news conference on Oct. 30, showing Tubman with a rifle on her back, a Confederate flag under her feet, and her hands in prayer, CBS News reported.
Pettit said about the work, “She [Tubman] is shown in majestic prayer. Perhaps she is calling upon her faith or contemplating a battle.” The artist, now based in Jersey City, New Jersey, continued: “This woman was a soldier, a scout, a Union spy, a military strategist, and a war hero. Therefore, I captured a moment in time that shows her as a conqueror.”
Pettit won the competition based on decisions by city officials and Philadelphia’s African American Statue Advisory Committee, which includes some of Tubman’s family members.