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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

A Rare and Authentic Dialogue

By Jannette J. Witmyer, Baltimore, Letter to the Baltimore Sun, 14 June 2000

The first sentence of this letter, where the writer identifies herself as an African-American, was deleted by the Baltimore Sun.

After reading Jamie Stiehm's account of the June 5 community meeting concerning the mural "The Dreams of Harriet Tubman," I have to wonder if the reporter and I attended the same meeting ("Mural of armed Tubman stirs protest," June 6).

The meeting provided a forum for the artist, Mike Alewitz, and representatives from Baltimore Clayworks and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation to explain the scope of the statewide public art project and for citizens, community leaders and national experts on Harriet Tubman to discuss their feelings about the work.

While there was a great deal of discussion about the image of the rifle In Tubman's hand, it was neither initiated nor fueled by representatives of Associated Black Charities Inc. (ABC).

Ms. Stiehm mentioned that the artist is white, but failed to mention that a white male raised the greatest objections to the gun in the mural. She neglected to acknowledge that a number of attendees, black and white, found the rendering to be passive compared with the savage violence endured by the enslaved.

In short, Ms. Stiehm portrayed the meeting as divided along racial lines. It certainly was not.

Ms. Stiehm also states that ABC leaders "balked" at having a mural that "paints a racially loaded portrait of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad" on their wall and claimed that "an armed depiction of the Freedom fighter is inappropriate for the building" and that some people have Urged the artist "to substitute a peaceful staff for the musket." None of this Is true.

In fact, ABC leaders pointed out emphatically that they had no desire to censor the art.

Donna Jones Stanley, ABC's executive director, stated that people who Are opposed to the rifle's presence are angry and more vocal than those who Are not, and that she did not want to place the agency in the position of defending a mural. She, and members of her staff, attended the meeting to hear the comments of members of the communities her agency serves.

Also, for the record, Mr. Alewitz was not "chosen in a national Competition sponsored jointly by the White House Millennium Council and the National Endowment for the Arts." And, Clayworks did not win a "$25,000 grant to develop the Harriet Tubman motif through a national Millennial Treasures program."

Baltimore Clayworks selected Mr. Alewitz from a pool of artists after it received an award in recognition of its commitment to community arts programs.

It is impossible to engage in honest and open discourse about the life and times of Harriet Tubman without discussing the issues of race, slavery and racism.

The images in the mural provoked thought, commentary and questions, and resulted in a rare and authentic dialogue.

The artist's depiction of Ms. Tubman's dream touches on issues and Events that many wish to marginalize or ignore. The discussion served to open Eyes and minds and hearts, as good art always does.

It's unfortunate that Ms. Stiehm twisted the spirit of the debate and misconstrued it as a racially divided meeting.

Jannette J. Witmyer Baltimore The writer is a member of the board of Baltimore Clayworks.

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