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.
“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.”
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.