Harriet Tubman at the Crossing

18 Mar

Artist Cheryl Derricotte created an eight-foot, larger-than-life likeness of Harriett Tubman, who was five-feet tall. The project was a collaboration of the the City of Milbrae, San Mateo County NAACP, BART, and Republic Urban Properties.

On Thursday morning, I heard an announcement on KQED, my local pubic radio station, that there would be a dedication of a monument to Harriet Tubman at the Milbrae, Calif. train station.

“That’s interesting,” I thought, as I hustled to get dressed and out the door to make it to the unveiling, which was taking place in a couple of hours. Milbrae is a Bay Area town just south of San Francisco with a Black population of 0.5 percent. I’ve always regarded it as a pass-through place where I park to take the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train into San Francisco or San Francisco International Airport. Or it’s where I switch from the Caltrain to the BART train to go to Oakland or Berkeley. Interesting that the town would honor Tubman with a permanent monument.

And that, it turns out, is the point.

In February, in recognition of Black History Month, a street at the BART station was renamed Harriet Tubman Way.

The monument, created by Cheryl Derricotte and titled “Freedom’s Threshold,” is a 12-foot aluminum A-frame “house,” featuring an eight-foot-tall image of Tubman printed on powdered-glass tiles.

Derricotte explains that in addition to Tubman’s many heroics, from freeing countless enslaved people via the Underground Railroad, serving as a scout and spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, and being active in the woman’s suffragist movement, Tubman was a property owner, rare in her day. The sculpture represents Tubman in her home.

Of course, Tubman is not only a hero for Black America. She is a hero for all of America. So the demographics of the city of Milbrae are irrelevant. Millions of travelers from all over the world make connections at that station. Placing the monument at the intersection of real trains is a perfect metaphor.


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