tubman leaving

Sylva Public Works Director Jake Scott maneuvers the “Journey to Freedom” sculpture to a waiting truck for its journey from Bridge Park to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The sculpture is the work of Cashiers artist Wesley Wofford.

By Dave Russell


The “Journey to Freedom” sculpture displayed in  Sylva’s Bridge Park for just over three months began a journey to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania last Friday.

The bronze statue portrays Harriet Tubman fighting against the wind to lead a slave girl on the Underground Railroad to freedom. Tubman’s clothing is blown backward to symbolize her struggle, while the child’s foot hangs off the back of the pedestal symbolizing the dangers faced on the missions to freedom.

Sylva Public Works Director Jake Scott, who lifted the sculpture from a flatbed on Sept. 20 and gently placed her in front of the Bridge Park Pavilion, scooped her up again and put her on a flatbed for the trip north.

“I rented a teleloader this time and that made it 1,000 percent less stressful,” he said.

In addition to school groups, locals and visitors visiting her during her stay, the sculpture left a mark on the town and  region.

A lesson plan based on the sculpture was prepared by the local NAACP and distributed to area schools.

The Jackson County NAACP, town of Sylva and Western Carolina University’s Bardo Arts Center, Intercultural Affairs and the Mountain Heritage Center collaborated on a smartphone app based on the sculpture and area African-American history sites.

“The following African American Historical Tour highlights important community centers, historical sites, influential artwork, and amazing individuals who have called the Jackson, Macon and Swain counties of Western North Carolina home,” the first page of the app explains.

The tour is hosted on the app Stqry, available on iPhones and Android. Using location data from the phone, Stqry can locate nearby tours and sites.

WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center played a role in developing content for the app.

“My part in this project was the research and the pulling together of the photographs and the narratives and stuff like that,” said Pam Meister, director of the Mountain Heritage Center.

The app is available for both Android and iPhones and can be accessed via computer at discover.stqry.app/en/tour/7893.

Sara Rincon, a visitor services coordinator at The Bardo Center, handled the technology side of the app, Meister said.

Jackson County stops on the tour include: 

• Mount Zion AME Church, founded in Cullowhee in 1892 by 11 former enslaved people.

• WCU’s Robertson Residence Hall, site of the original Mt. Zion AME Zion Church.

• Liberty Baptist Church/Jackson County Public Schools Central Office, the former site of Sylva Colored Consolidated School.

There are also two sites in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and two in Macon County included in the history tour.

“What I would love to do is to actually physically do this driving tour,” Meister said. “Put people on a bus and go to these sites. I think it would be a really interesting excursion to go on as a group.”