‘Transformative’ Tubman mural awes visitors

By Debra R. Messick, Dorchester Banner
Posted 2/14/24

CAMBRIDGE — One day wasn’t enough to officially welcome downtown’s second Harriet Tubman mural. The two-day event drew delighted visitors to Cambridge from New York, Delaware, …

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‘Transformative’ Tubman mural awes visitors


CAMBRIDGE — One day wasn’t enough to officially welcome downtown’s second Harriet Tubman mural. The two-day event drew delighted visitors to Cambridge from New York, Delaware, Virginia, D.C., western Maryland and across the Eastern Shore.

The latest mural, “Minty’s Act of Courage,” was created by acclaimed artist Michael Rosato, who also painted the groundbreaking “Take My Hand” mural in 2019 behind the Harriet Tubman Museum and Education Center at 424 Race Street.

From the time the door opened at noon Saturday, Feb. 3, lobby chairs quickly filled, but the overflow standing crowd remained riveted to storyteller Walter Jones’ powerful presentation of a painful past. Soon after, an equally enthusiastic audience enjoyed the Eastern Shore Outlawz, a diverse group of local musicians, in their debut performance.

At 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 4, every chair in the building’s back room, site of the new mural, was also filled, and rapt listeners hummed, sung, swayed, and clapped along as museum executive director, singer Linda Harris, and her husband, musician David Cole, performed code songs from the Underground Railroad era.

Following each day’s performances, Harris and museum president Bill Jarmon discussed the mural’s significance and reflected on the museum’s growth.

Artist Rosato graciously spoke to a visiting bus group at the outside mural who arrived just before the event began. He later joined Harris and Jarmon in sharing his thoughts behind the mural’s creation. At one point, while trying to put into words his feelings about young Minty’s courage, Rosato struggled, becoming choked up with emotion.

“Minty’s Act of Courage” recreates the interior of the Bucktown General Store, this time inside the museum.
The mural, completely covering the four walls of the museum’s entire back room, transforms the space into a vivid, lifelike recreation of the still standing Bucktown General Store, built in 1822.

The historically preserved shop, designated as Stop #18 on the Harriet Tubman Byway, represents a traumatic, life-changing event in the life of 13-year-old Araminta Ross, who would later make history as Harriet Tubman.

Young Ross, enslaved by the Brodess family but hired out to a local farmer, was on a shopping errand there when an overseer chasing down a young slave who had left work without permission rushed in.

The overseer, attempting to tie up and restrain the slave, ordered Ross to help. Instead of obeying, she refused, marking what historians consider her first act of defiance. When the youngster bolted to run, the overseer threw a two-pound weight at him, but it missed its intended mark, hitting Ross in the head instead, cracking her skull.

Somehow surviving the bloody wound resulting from the heavy blow, she experienced debilitating, sudden seizures for the rest of her life, followed by visions. These she interpreted as positive signs from God of His presence and protection, reinforcing her faith and determination to be free.

The impetus to essentially recreate the Bucktown Store within the downtown museum flowed from Harris, who regularly leads popular walking tours highlighting Tubman’s story.
To grasp the story’s importance, Harris wanted tour participants to experience the actual store’s interior firsthand, but had to work around limited, by appointment, hours.

When grant money was awarded to begin much needed refurbishing of the Museum Center’s roof and interior, the building’s backroom possibilities beckoned to Harris. With Rosato’s studio just a few doors down, she’d be able to view the mural coming to life, one panel at a time, even before it was installed.

With 30 years of experience and a passion for public mural creation, Rosato recreated the store visually, using painstaking hand painting techniques evoking an almost camera like image. But he further infused the project with special meaning, portraying Minty and the young slave as they might have been in that moment.

Rosato’s wife Heather later recalled an interesting revelation which hadn’t occurred to them until driving over to the event. They both realized how much Tubman’s hand was a defining feature of both portraits, which were essentially back to back, one inside and one outside the wall.

“In both, the hand definitely tells the story, one reaching out, one raised protectively,” she noted.

She described the new mural as an “immersive, transportive experience,” a sentiment other visitors shared.

Wanda Colston, who traveled from Salisbury with husband Ladd, has been inside the actual Bucktown Store and was especially impressed with the authenticity of the mural recreation, as well as the overall appearance of the museum.

During the 20 years the couple has lived in Salisbury, they’ve visited several times, always making it a point to bring visiting out-of-town guests.

“I applaud the museum for the great work they’ve done keeping their doors open, keeping going, and now thriving,” Colston noted.

Several parents and grandparents had brought youngsters, either to gather information for school reports or just to share the important history, including Dawn Becker of Preston, accompanied by granddaughter Charlotte Walls, a first grader.

Becker, whose parents live near Harriet Tubman Byway sites the Linchester Mill and the Jacob and Hannah Leverton, thought the event represented important American history to share with Charlotte.

Kim Weitzel and husband Jay, from Springfield, Virginia, arrived at the Tubman Museum while winding up a Tubman Byway driving tour they had often talked about doing.

Unaware ahead of time about the special mural dedication event, they found it a fitting way to end their tour.

“This is such a valuable education about what a real hero is. She (Tubman) put her life on the line, not once, but 13 times,” Weitzel added.

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