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History group drops Tubman image over doubt she was ever in Lewiston

The Historical Association of Lewiston has dropped a replica of Harriet Tubman from a life-size bronze monument planned for a riverfront park after leaders in Niagara Falls objected to the use of a historical figure who may never have been in Lewiston.

Diane Finkbeiner, the association's president, said the organization has stepped away from an early clay design for the monument that depicted Harriet Tubman with Josiah Tryon, Lewiston's station master on the Underground Railroad, helping an enslaved family cross to freedom in Canada.

Leaders in Niagara Falls objected to the monument as historically inaccurate because there is no proof Tubman was ever in Lewiston. They pointed to historical documents that show Tubman helped slaves cross the Niagara River on a suspension bridge that once was located in Niagara Falls.

Finkbeiner said the Lewiston association never intended to create a controversy when it included Tubman in the concept for the monument based on a theme from the children's fictional book "Freedom Crossing."

"This monument is about bringing unity, not creating differences," Finkbeiner said. "We were prepared to rethink the piece and to help build consensus in the general region about the Underground Railroad and to respect the works and thoughts of others. That's our thinking about why we're prepared to step back and revisit it."

Finkbeiner said the organization is now convening a group of citizens to discuss the concept of the monument and ways to highlight the regional history of the Underground Railroad, a network of people that helped slaves travel north to freedom.

Niagara Falls resident Kevin E. Cottrell, a state parks grant writer and the owner of Motherland Connextions, a heritage tour company, wants Lewiston and Niagara Falls to work together as both communities develop destinations centered on the history of the Underground Railroad.

Cottrell is working with Falls Councilman Charles Walker and State Sen. Antoine Thompson to develop a tourism destination in the city's North End centered around the Underground Railroad.

"We want to make Main Street a destination," Cottrell told members of the city's Tourism Advisory Board earlier this week. "We still want to work with Lewiston. We have to."

Finkbeiner agreed.

"We're trying to come up with a cohesive approach that will keep the vision intact and will serve Lewiston, as well as the region," Finkbeiner said. "Our goal here was only to honor Harriet Tubman. We had no other motive. If everybody develops their concept and they're talking to each other, what we have is a cohesive story told rather than a fractioned concept."


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