Vandalism mars Tubman mural


Harford County officials and community leaders decried yesterday the defacing of a Harriet Tubman mural being painted on a Harford County school, while the artist vowed to complete his work.

Swastikas and racial epithets were painted on the 18-by-50-foot vibrantly colored mural titled "Education for All." But Mike Alewitz, who is designing five Tubman murals for a statewide art project commissioned by Baltimore Clayworks - a Mount Washington arts center - promised to repair the damage at Magnolia Middle School in Joppa and "go on from there."

"We will make it better and brighter," he said.

Yesterday, the work was marred by red zigzags, swastikas and other graffiti. Tubman's first name and a racial slur were misspelled. And the freedom fighter's face was besmirched with a red goatee.

"Of course, I'm very upset and outraged," Alewitz said. "It is disgraceful."

This is the second time one of Alewitz's Tubman murals has thrown him into the spotlight. A mural proposed for the Associated Black Charities headquarters in Baltimore came under criticism in June because it depicted Tubman with a musket.

"Is it jinxed? Absolutely not," Deborah Bedwell, executive director of Baltimore Clayworks, said of the Tubman series. "I think we are in the soul of the community."

Bedwell joined Harford educators, elected officials, community leaders, police, representatives from the Harford County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others at the school yesterday afternoon, where they vowed to bring whoever was involved to justice.

Harford County Crime Solvers is offering up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible.

The mural was vandalized between 3 p.m. Wednesday and 5:30 a.m. yesterday, said Lt. Edward Hopkins, spokesman for the county sheriff's office. The damage was discovered by a school custodian.

Police went door to door yesterday in their investigation. Hopkins said police are treating the incident as a hate crime. Possible penalties include a three-year jail term, a $5,000 fine or both.

County Executive James M. Harkins called the vandalism appalling and said he would urge the state's attorney's office to prosecute to the full extent of the law and to require a racial sensitivity class as punishment.

Harkins said acts such as this are the exception, not the rule, in Harford County. The number of hate crimes in the county has gone down, he said. Thirteen such crimes occurred last year, four of them in county schools. The mural incident was the first crime of its type this year.

Alewitz told the crowd yesterday that he would like the vandal or vandals to join him on the scaffold and help paint the mural, which he has been working on for a month.

"There we will discuss and learn about Harriet Tubman," he said.

Alewitz, 49, a Connecticut artist, said he will continue to work on the series, "The Dreams of Harriet Tubman." The next project will take him to Cambridge, Tubman's birthplace. He will create two other works, one at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, the other in Hyattsville.

He is still trying to find a wall for the Tubman mural that was rejected by Associated Black Charities because of concerns about the gun in the painting. Alewitz refused to change the image of the weapon-toting Underground Railroad heroine.

Alewitz said he is hoping to keep the mural in Baltimore but will look elsewhere if need be. He said he then would call the work "The Mural That Baltimore Rejected." "It would be a sad thing," he said.

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