Harriet Tubman portrait to be featured at Jacksonville African American History Museum

A portrait of Harriet Tubman soon will dominate a wall in the Jacksonville African American History Museum’s room dedicated to the history of slavery, the Civil War and the Underground Railroad.

“Harriet Tubman was a champion of the Underground Railroad,” said Art Wilson, one of the museum’s founders. “In these rooms, we really reflect on the importance of the Underground Railroad.”

The portrait will be featured in the museum at the Asa Talcott house at 859 Grove St.

The 52-inch portrait was painted and given to the museum by Jacksonville native Randall Williams, now an artist in California. 

Williams, a 1975 graduate of Jacksonville High School, said the portrait ended up being bigger than he expected, but he was inspired. 

“Since I’ve been in California, I’ve been doing a lot of Black history and I’ve been doing portraits of people,” Williams said. “Art [Wilson] has been talking about this museum for a long time and I wanted to do something to contribute to Art’s [Wilson] project. It was an honor to send something back to Jacksonville.”

Williams said he wanted to make sure people really saw Harriet Tubman in the portrait. 

“The eyes are what grabs people,” Williams said. “When you think of the Underground Railroad, you think of Harriet Tubman. And for her to be able to do everything she did, she had to be a stern, tough woman. I wanted to show a little feminine quality, but stern.”

The portrait is going to add a lot to the room, Wilson said, noting that they have smaller pictures but the Tubman portrait will be a dominant eye-catcher. 

“The look on her face, she’s determined, you can’t tell her no,” Wilson said. “She’s looking out over the aspects of history in the Underground Railroad-abolitionist room. It’s like she’s conducting them through the journey through the room, through the history.”

Williams said he was happy to contribute to a museum that shared history. 

“I once believe the Underground Railroad was a real railroad, I though there were these underground trains,” Williams said. 

The portrait will be unveiled Saturday during a reception following a presentation by Harriet Tubman re-enactor Kathryn Harris.

The presentation, which will look at Tubman’s life, will begin at 2 p.m. at Lovejoy Hall, 520 W. College Ave.

Admission to the presentation is $10 for adults, $5 for students and free for children 5 and under. Those who pay to attend the presentation will be admitted free to the museum. Museum admission for those who attend the unveiling only will be $5 for adults and $3 for students 5 or older. 

“After the presentation, we’ll ask them to come back to the museum for the unveiling and they’ll be able to tour,” Wilson said. “It’ll be great to hear the presentation and then see her portrait.”

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