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'Come here and see': Tubman statue to spend 5 months in Georgetown County in late 2023

Marilyn Hemingway

Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce founder Marilyn Hemingway, at podium, addresses the media on Jan. 23, 2023, at Georgetown's Joseph Rainey Park. The park will be home to a 9-foot bronze sculpture of Harriet Tubman for three months this summer and fall. Mike Woodel/Staff

GEORGETOWN — Harriet Tubman never lived in South Carolina's third-oldest city, but a collaboration of local officials and the Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce will bring her to Georgetown this summer nonetheless.

"The Journey to Freedom," a 9-foot bronze sculpture of Tubman leading a young enslaved girl to freedom, will spend three months in Georgetown and five months in Georgetown County, beginning in August. 

The sculpture will arrive in Georgetown on Aug. 1 ahead of an Aug. 5 unveiling in Joseph Rainey Park, where it will remain until Oct. 31. At that time, it will be transported north up U.S. Highway 17 for a two-month stay at Brookgreen Gardens.

Local historian Steve Williams encouraged residents to come see what Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce founder Marilyn Hemingway said is one of the most monumental events to come through Georgetown since the Freedom Schooner Amistad visited in the early 2000s.

"One of the disciples — Nathaniel — said 'Does anything good come out of Nazareth?'" Williams said. "And Philip succinctly and simply answered him, 'Come and see.' We are asking the city of Georgetown next summer to come here and see what we have planned."

"The Journey to Freedom" sculptor Wesley Wofford will be on hand for the Aug. 5 unveiling, as will author and Tubman scholar Kate Clifford Larson and Tubman's great-great-great-grandniece Tina Wyatt.

Further events coinciding with the statue's visit will include a one-woman show by "Gullah Gullah Island" star Natalie Daise on Tubman and an artisan village showcasing Gullah works.

"I submit to you that when it comes to history we are a small, quaint community, but we don't take a backseat to any city in South Carolina," Williams said.

Tubman's connection to Georgetown runs through James Bowley, who was born into slavery but later freed by Tubman, his great-aunt. Bowley went on to serve as the commissioner of Georgetown County schools and had fundraising help from Tubman. His former King Street home is denoted by a historical marker.

"We are here because we love Georgetown," Hemingway said. "We love its history, we love its heritage, we love its leadership. And who is the epitome of leadership, courage, and freedom and liberty in this country with a major connection to Georgetown but Harriet Tubman?"

The statue's trip to Georgetown was paid for in part by accommodations tax funding from Georgetown County. The Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce is still fundraising for programs and logistics surrounding the statue's exhibition with a goal of $105,000.

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Mike Woodel reports on Georgetown County for The Post and Courier. He graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2018 and previously worked for newspapers in Montana and South Dakota.