In the midst of the pandemic last June 2020, the Canadian Consulate General in Boston noted the energy around Juneteenth in Boston during that tumultuous time, and quietly put a memorial wreath at the statue of Harriet Tubman in the South End’s Tubman Square.
It was a mystery at first, but soon the word spread, and the small gesture because a big deal – so much so that this year new Consul General Roger Cuzner partnered with Frieda Garcia and the Friends of Tubman Square to hold a Juneteenth celebration and memorial at the statue this year.
It is perhaps the first official event at the statue, but most believe that it could become a neighborhood tradition on Juneteenth in years to come.
On Saturday morning, June 19, Cuzner said the Consulate felt it appropriate to continue to honor Tubman on Juneteenth based on her Canadian citizenship and her extreme efforts to bring enslaved people to freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad.
“This is a very important day,” he said. “It’s a wonderful program, but it shouldn’t overwhelm the importance of the day it is. This was started by my predecessor last year and he hoped to continue doing it and that’s what we wanted to do as well. The bond between our two countries is deep and it’s rich. The Underground Railroad and the role Harriet Tubman played in it is significant. It’s something both countries should and must honor forever…Today’s event is even more poignant in light of the fact President Biden signed the legislation to celebrate Juneteenth as a national holiday…We must open our hearts and fulfill the challenge to make things right. Harriet Tubman would want us to.”
Frieda Garcia, a South End residents who has been active in Tubman Square for decades, said the Square was named after Tubman during Urban Renewal in honor of the Tubman House that had been established nearby on Holyoke Street in 1904. Black women who came to study or work in Boston could stay there and be welcome and safe.
As a former director of USES at the time, Garcia said a group came to her with the idea for a statue.
“Little did I know it would become a life-long pursuit,” she said.
She said the statue was dedicated in 1999, but very little was known of Tubman at the time, she said. However, around 2002, Tubman historians began to publish much more information about her and her life’s details. Now, there is a QR code on the statue with rich detail, and it has served as a monument to freedom and deliverance from oppression ever since.
“It’s such a point of pride we have this monument to her in the South End,” said Garcia.
Cuzner said to this day there are ancestors of those that escaped through the efforts of Tubman living in St. Catherine’s and southern Ontario.