Boston city officials say they will remove a much-debated statue of Abraham Lincoln that depicts the 16th president freeing a slave.
The Emancipation Group statue in Boston is a replica of the original Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C., and shows Lincoln standing over a slave named Archer Alexander who is on one knee but is no longer in bondage. The word “Emancipation” is engraved on the base.
The original memorial in Washington was erected in 1876 and funded solely by freed slaves, “primarily from African American Union veterans,” according to the National Park Service. The statue was the idea of Charlotte Scott, a freed slave who launched a fundraiser to pay “homage to the President who had issued the Emancipation Proclamation that liberated the slaves in the Confederate States,” according to the NPS website. Frederick Douglass spoke at the statue’s dedication.
The memorial’s official name in Washington, D.C. is the Freedmen's Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln.
The Boston Art Commission voted Tuesday to remove the replica, which has stood in Park Square since 1879. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh supported the move. The commission said in a blog that many criticized the statue’s “visual representation of Archer Alexander as the passive recipient of Lincoln’s gift of freedom.”
“Many also feel that it inaccurately implies that one person is solely responsible for ending slavery, presenting Lincoln as a paternalistic white savior and obscuring his complex history,” the blog said.
A petition calling for the statue’s removal gained more than 12,000 signatures, according to the Boston Globe.
“After engaging in a public process, it’s clear that residents and visitors to Boston have been uncomfortable with this statue, and its reductive representation of the Black man’s role in the abolitionist movement,” Walsh said in a statement. “I fully support the Boston Art Commission’s decision for removal and thank them for their work.”
Others, though, see the statue as inspiring.
Keith Winstead, a descendant of Alexander, criticized the removal.
“It’s sad. It’s really sad,” Winstead told the Boston Globe. “You can’t change history.”
Marcia Cole, a member of the Female RE-Enactors of Distinction (FREED), portrays Scott in reenactments and has spoken out in support of the Washington memorial.
“I understand there's a big campaign trying to raise money to either take it down or mend it, and I say ‘no’ on behalf of Ms. Charlotte,” she told WJLA in Washington, D.C. “People tend to think of that figure as being servile but on second look you will see something different, perhaps. That man is not kneeling on two knees with his head bowed. He is in the act of getting up. And his head is up, not bowed, because he’s looking forward to a future of freedom.”
"He is in the act of getting up. And his head is up, not bowed, because he's looking forward to a future of freedom."— ABC 7 News - WJLA (@ABC7News) June 22, 2020
Some want D.C.'s Lincoln statue gone. Others point out: Freed Black Americans paid for it.
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Photo courtesy: U.S. Government
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.