What Is the Issue with Civil Rights Icon Harriet Tubman in St. Catharines?

“We feel awful … “It’s horrible. We no longer have a Harriet Tubman statue.” –  Rochelle Bush, historian, Salem Chapel British Episcopal Church in St. Catharines, Ontario, following the smashing of a bust of the civil rights icon by one or more perpetrators on the church’s property  

A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper

Posted October 14th, 2021 on Niagara At Large

A Nazi swastika sprayed on a sidewalk in front of Harriet Tubman Pubic School in 2018 where a statue of Tubman sits at the entrance to the school

It appears that at least a few people in St. Catharines, Ontario have anger management issues around the Iconic Underground Railroad emancipator and humanitarian Harriet Tubman.

Well, let’s hope it is just a few

Earlier on, in the winter of 2018, parents with children attending Harriet Tubman Public School in St. Catharines were greeted with a Nazi swastika – one of the world’s starkest symbols of white supremacy and racial hate – sprayed on a sidewalk outside the school where a beautiful state of Tubman is on display.

And this past Thanksgiving weekend, the latest reported act of desecration against this legendary African American who made St. Catharines her home for a time in the 1850s, occurred at the historic Salem Chapel British Episcopal Church located in the city’s downtown area, on Geneva Street.

This latest act, reportedly captured in real time on video this past Sunday, October 10th, involved one or more persons walking on to the property of the 165-year-old church and pushing a bust of Harriet Tubman off a pedestal, doing some crushing, possibly irreparable damage to the bust.

The bust of Harriet Tubman was pulled of its pedestal at the Salem, Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church this past Thanksgiving weekend. The bust may be damaged beyond repair.

“We feel awful,” Rochelle Bush, the church’s historian, told me during a call I made to her earlier this week about the violation done at a church where Harriet Tubman worshipped during her short time in St. Catharines. “It’s horrible. We no longer have a Harriet Tubman statue.”

The bust of Harriet Tubman was produced by sculptor Frank Rekrut, a former St. Catharines resident who, along with his wife Laura Thompson, also an artist formerly from the Niagara, Ontario area, who now live in Florence, Italy where they  run a great hub for artists called The Florence Studio. (Frank Rekrut also produced a beautiful sculpture of Harriet Tubman, located at the front doors of Harriett Tubman Public School in St. Catharines.

“It is so difficult to know what to say,” said the couple in an email they sent to me a few days ago from Florence. “We both just feel very sad that this vandalism occurred,” adding that they have seen a photo of a young suspect that Niagara Regional Police released this past October 12th, and “we are wondering about his situation and hoping he is able to get help.”

They said they have also been in touch with the church and they are discussing the possibility of producing a replacement bust of Tubman.

The good news here is that church representative Rochelle Bush says there has been a huge outpouring of support from residents and community leaders in the St. Catharines area since news of the vandalism circulated through the Niagara region.

The Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Catharines, one of the most historic churches of its kind in Canada.

That is very heartening to know. Yet on the other hand, this latest incident should tell us that we have work to do to address whatever anger and intolerance still lingers among us.

In the October 12th news release circulated by Niagara Regional Police and headlined; “Detectives Investigating Mischief at Church in St. Catharines, the release notes that “at this time, there is no indication that the vandalism was a hate motivated crime.”

Perhaps not, but if this was just some random expression or “mischief” or anger, why was the target a bust of a black person, located at a church with a predominately black congregation?

After all, if someone is just plain angry at the world and wants to smash something up, there were plenty of store windows or parked cars in the area.

Just my opinion, but I would not be too quick to conclude that this was not hate motivated.

In the meantime, let us all – as a community at large – give this great church our support.

You can find out more about the Salem Chapel British Episcopal Church by clicking on its website at – http://salemchapelbmechurch.ca/index.html

To find out more about The Florence Studio, click on – https://theflorencestudio.com/

Here is the news release circulated by Niagara Regional Police this October 12th, including a photo of a suspect in this incident –

Detectives Investigating Mischief at Church in                St. Catharines

Posted on October 12, 2021

On Monday, October 11, 2021, at 2:33pm, Detectives from 1 District (St. Catharines), began an investigation into Mischief that occurred at 92 Geneva Street, in the City of St. Catharines.

Investigation revealed that on Sunday, October 10, 2021, an unknown male attended the Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church, at this location, and allegedly intentionally damaged the Harriet Tubman Statue.

As a result of the investigation, detectives were able to identify the suspect.

Jessie Lohnes-Alanko, 24 years old of no fixed address, is wanted for the following offences of:

Mischief over $5,000 contrary to section 430(3) of the Criminal Code

Fail to Comply with Probation Order contrary to section 733.1(1) of the Criminal Code

Detectives have been working with the Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church to address the concern.

At this time there is no indication that the vandalism was a hate motivated crime.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Niagara Regional Police Service at 905-688-4111, ext. 1009482.

Children at Harriet Tubman Public School in St. Catharines gather with teachers, and parents for the unveiling of a statue of Harriet Tubman, created by sculptor Frank Rekrut and unveiled at the school during Black History Month in 2016

Here is a news commentary Niagara At Large posted in 2018 about the spray painting of a Nazi swastika in front of Harriet Tubman Public School in St. Catharines –https://niagaraatlarge.com/2018/02/02/hate-in-the-shape-of-a-swastika-finds-expression-near-a-statue-of-civil-rights-heroine-harriet-tubman-in-niagara-ontario/ .

Here also is a story CBC posted on the Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Catharines earlier this year – https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/niagara-historic-salem-chapel-100k-government-grant-1.5879010

NIAGARA AT LARGE Encourages You To Join The Conversation By Sharing Your Views On This Post In The Space Following The Bernie Sanders Quote Below.

“A Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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