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New Equal Rights Heritage Center Opens in Auburn, Complete with Statue of Harriet Tubman

There’s a new place in Auburn to stop and learn about New York’s civil, women’s and LGBTQ rights pioneers.  Officials cut the ribbon Tuesday on the 10 million dollar Equal Rights Heritage Center. 

State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey says they gathered New York’s foremost historians and consultants for the 7,500 square foot interactive center, which highlights the state’s progressive history.

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
The entrance to the center. The statue of Harriet Tubman can be seen on the patio in the distance.

“It was so much fun, and also so deeply moving to go through the speeches, the songs, the struggles, what everybody did for everybody else for freedom,” Harvey said. “This is the touchpoint. We hope that we touch somebody’s heart, soul, interest, curiosity, and then they move out and interpret the historic movements with a little more depth.”

The Equal Rights Center touched visitors before they even walked inside. A seven and a half foot statue of  Harriet Tubman welcomes visitors on the large patio.  For Pauline Copes Johnson, Tubman’s great-great grand-niece, the grand opening itself marked progression.  

“I never thought I would see anything like this in my time. I am 91 years old. I’m so happy about this day and all the events today,” Johnson said.... “The information about Aunt Harriet has been suppressed for so many years. I am so happy that at last she has come alive for these people. I knew about her but they did not.”

Tubman’s story also inspired Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul as a child.

“I love the story of this woman, who was a tiny person in stature, but had a heart of gold,” Hochul said. “So many times she could have been secured in her own freedom, and she kept coming back, and coming back, to make sure that others had that freedom that she treasured herself.”

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
Some artifacts from the days when NY women were seeking the vote. It would come in 1918, two years before being ratified by the United States.

The statue was donated by the George and Mary Cuthbert Family of Auburn, and created by sculptor Brian Hanlon.  George Cuthbert says it’s in memory of his father, who believed strongly in the dignity of all people.  He hopes the statue will remind visitors of Tubman’s sacrifice, courage and freedom.

“When one looks at the statue, one sees the determination in Harriet’s eyes,” Cuthbert said. “Look in her eyes looking west… Also, Harriet’s hand, with her lantern leading the way to freedom, and her other hand protecting her passengers.”

The Equal Rights Heritage Center is in Auburn’s South Street National Register District, across from Memorial City Hall.  It includes interactive maps and videos, as well as listening booths where visitors can hear speeches by key figures arguing for equality. 

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at