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AUBURN — The first statue of abolitionist Harriet Tubman in Auburn will be displayed at the entrance of the Equal Rights Cultural Heritage Center. 

New York State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey unveiled the design for the statue Tuesday in front of Memorial City Hall in Auburn as construction of the center was going on across the street behind her.

"Harriet Tubman symbolizes the very essence of the equal rights movement," Harvey said. "She'll stand tall, proud, strong and she'll remind us of the great bravery, of the courage, of the determination, of the personal sacrifice and personal risk for the benefit of all, to free all and everyone and then fight on for human rights."  

George and Mary Cuthbert and their children donated the money for the statue, which was designed and will be built by classically trained sculptor Brian Hanlon. During the press conference, Harvey revealed a poster of Hanlon's design, which depicts a young Tubman. The statue will stand over 7 feet tall and be made of clay and bronze. 

Hanlon said he wanted to portray Tubman's "strength and courage" as a "young warrior," rather than an older woman, as she is typically depicted.  

"I truly believe it's a sculptor's job to create historical markers so the children of this town, the visitors and the adults see this and think about it just a little bit more," Hanlon said. "I think it raises the quality of life in your town and for our culture."

Several of Tubman's descendants, including her 90-year-old great-great-grandniece, Pauline Copes Johnson, were present during the announcement. Copes Johnson said she and her family are "overjoyed" that a statue of Tubman will grace Auburn and said the design is "wonderful."

"The story of Aunt Harriet has been suppressed for so many years, over 100 years, and at last they are giving recognition to her and I just can't wait until the statue is up and that building is done," Copes Johnson said. 

George Cuthbert said his family decided to donate the statue in honor of his father, Ed Cuthbert, the co-founder of Auburn medical software company Medent. Ed Cuthebert died in April 2017 and "was a big believer in civil rights" and "dignity of people," his son said. 

"We just absolutely love Auburn and really admire the rich and incredible history of Auburn," George Cuthbert said. "We personally felt that the timing was really, really good and it was long overdue to have a real statue, a real marker, for Harriet. But we were OK and happy with that because it gave us the opportunity to do it."

Since March 2017, the Harriet Tubman Downtown Memorial Committee has been fundraising to build a Tubman sculpture in Auburn. Committee chair Debra Brillati said none of the group's fundraising efforts went toward this statue, but the group is "thrilled" that Tubman is finally getting the recognition she deserves. 

"We're glad it happened and it's wonderful it's going to be there (at the Equal Rights Cultural Heritage Center)," Brillati said. "It would have been a long time probably before we could have made it happen — it certainly wouldn't be this fall. We're excited about it." 

Brillati said she will send a letter to the group's donors letting them know that the committee plans to use the money they did raise — about $7,000 toward a goal of $125,000 — to make improvements at Freedom Park on North Street. She said the group will return money to donors if they wish.   

Construction of the Equal Rights Cultural Heritage Center began in February and the building is scheduled to open this October. It is being funded by a $10 million grant from the state and will include an I Love NY Equal Rights Heritage Tourism Promotion Center, a Taste NY market and a local tourism promotion center that highlights equal-rights destinations in the city, the county and region.

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Staff writer Natalie Brophy can be reached at (315)282-2239 or natalie.brophy@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @brophy_natalie

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