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From worker-brc-news@lists.tao.ca Tue Jun 27 20:26:39 2000
Date: Tue, 27 Jun 2000 13:17:49 -0400
From: Mike Alewitz <alewitzm@mail.ccsu.edu>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Harriet Tubman: Armed and Dangerous
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Reprinted in AgitProp News, 17 June 2000.
Special Issue: Harriet Tubman: Armed and Dangerous

Harriet Tubman: Armed and Dangerous

USA Today, Wednesday 7 June 2000

Baltimore—A 25-foot-high ceramic mural of a musket-toting Harriet Tubman leading slaves to liberation on the Underground Railroad has upset the group that had planned to display it. Associated Black Charities Inc. says the piece could be construed as racist and violent. The group asked artist Mike Alewitz to replace the musket with a staff, but he refused. Tubman, a Maryland native, is the subject of five Alewitz murals to be installed throughout the state this summer.

I Will Not Disarm Harriet Tubman

By Jamie Stiehm, Baltimore Sun, 6 June 2000

Mural of armed Tubman stirs protest
Artist won't change piece for black charity

Dispute: Officials of Associated Black Charities Inc., the organization for which the mural is intended, have asked the artist to replace Harriet Tubman's musket with a staff.

An artist refused yesterday to alter his government-funded mural as he prepared to meet with members of Associated Black Charities Inc., who balked at putting it on their building because they believe it paints a racially loaded portrait of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Strong emotions were apparent last night over the 25-foot-high ceramic Mural planned for display this month at Associated's headquarters at Cathedral And Chase streets. The work portrays Tubman with a musket, leading slaves to freedom through a symbolic, parting Red Sea. The images of whites in the work - they are being tossed into the sea from either a slave ship or a factory - and Tubman handling a musket set people off, even before a gathering to discuss the mural last night at the McKim Center, a former Quaker meeting house on Aisquith Street.

The mural creates a powerful image, but one that could be construed as racist and condoning violence, say charity directors. It is not something to display on an outside wall at a time when guns are too often linked with violence in the black community, charity officials say.

Associated leaders have urged artist Mike Alewitz - chosen in a national competition sponsored jointly by the White House Millennium Council and the National Endowment for the Arts - to substitute a peaceful staff for the musket.

Alewitz likens this to censorship: "I will not disarm Harriet Tubman. I won't take [the musket] out of her hands," he said in a telephone interview before the meeting.

The 25-by-123-foot mural is designed to be in public view. It has raised questions about historical truth vs. contemporary perceptions, issues that separate whites and blacks. Some tried to bridge that gulf at last night's meeting.

The community coordinator of the statewide Harriet Tubman mural project defended the artist's choice. "[Tubman] did not lead a revolution with a feather," said Blaise DePaolo.

A Maryland native who led slaves to freedom, Tubman is the subject of Five murals to be installed throughout the state this summer, one in her birthplace, Cambridge.

Through a national Millennial Treasures campaign launched by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Baltimore Clayworks won a $25,000 grant to develop the Harriet Tubman motif. The Mount Washington ceramics center chose Alewitz, who Lives in New Jersey, from a national pool of hundreds of artists. He designed All five murals.

The others are set for display at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, a park in Hyattsville in Prince George's County and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.

If the Associated refuses to take the mural as Alewitz conceived it, Baltimore Clayworks will find another site for it in the city, said Deborah Bedwell, the executive director.

Mike Alewitz, Artistic Director
c/o Department of Art
Central Connecticut State University
New Britain, CT 06050

Phone: (860)832-2359
Web: http://www.igc.org/laborart

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