Statue brings attention to historical culture

The “Harriet Tubman- Journey to Freedom” traveling sculpture began its stop in Sylva with its dedication ceremony held on Sept. 26. The statue, which is 9 feet tall and weighs over  240 pounds, is now located in Bridge Park in downtown Sylva and will remain there until  Dec. 20 when it will begin its journey to Philadelphia. The artist, Wesley Wofford, a resident of Cashiers, originally created the piece for a private commission. He decided to make it a traveling work after it gained popularity over social media. 

Photo Credit: Wesley Wofford Sculpture Studio

Peter Koch, the education associate for the Mountain Heritage Center at WCU, discussed what it was like researching the history of the statue and its importance to our community. 

“We have some connections with individuals within the local community and so we kind of got involved in that,” Koch said. “Harriet Tubman is a unique character and it’s a national story. She personally has no connection, I don’t believe, to Western North Carolina, but I think it’s a theme that resonates with a lot of people.” 

Koch went on to describe the historical tour that goes with the statue and how it connects to the Sylva area. 

“What we wanted to do is create a historic tour of Jackson, Macon and Swain counties to highlight historic spots where there have been African American community involvement,” Koch said. 

Koch also expressed the hope that the statue and tour will open up more opportunities for students to learn about our thriving African American communities and develop a deeper understanding of the vast cultural history in this area. 

“I hope it raises awareness, because over the years our history has been good and, in some cases, not so good. We can sometimes kind of ignore or belittle the African American experience in the mountains. This hopefully will make the history of that experience a bit more prominent,” Koch said.  

Koch also made a point to mention the importance of Cullowhee specifically in the historic tour. 

“There was a traditionally African American church on the backside of Cullowhee. It was on top of the hill where Robertson dorm is now, so there has been an African American community in the county for quite a long time,” Koch said. “In the early 1900s, the church was asked to move so the university could build the dorm. Eventually, after several years of negotiation, the congregation did move and there’s a memorial marker up there on the top of the hill to this day. The community didn’t just disappear and the marker is still there” 

There are exhibits curated by the Moutain Heritage Center in the Jackson County Public  Library, a small display in the Health and Human Sciences building on campus, and several exhibits in Hunter Library. The best way to get involved is to visit the exhibits. However, the Moutain Heritage Center also hires a number of interns, volunteers, and student workers from various majors to work on their team each semester.  

If you would like to learn more about the Mountain Heritage Center, you can visit Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m and find more information on their website. If you would like to visit the statue, “Harriet Tubman- The Journey to Freedom” you can find it located in Bridge Park in Sylva until Dec. 20.