Frederick Douglass had issues with the Emancipation Monument too
Re “Petition calls for Lincoln statue to be taken down” by Meghan E. Irons (Metro, June 13): The Emancipation Monument in Boston’s Park Square is a copy of the one in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C., that has long provoked calls for removal. Its origins, however, have made D.C. leaders reluctant to act.
According to the Smithsonian’s “The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington, D.C.,” the “sculpture was erected by the Western Sanitary Commission of St. Louis from funds contributed solely by emancipated slaves.” The commission was an all-white group overseeing aid to freed slaves.
“Charlotte Scott, a freed woman of Virginia, made the first contribution” of $5. She “conceived the idea of building a monument to Lincoln on the day she heard of his assassination.” The donors, however, had no say in its design.
Speaking at its dedication, Frederick Douglass departed from his prepared tribute to Lincoln to voice unhappiness with the statue. According to Howard University professor John W. Cromwell, Douglass “was very clear and emphatic in saying that he did not like the attitude; it showed the Negro on his knees, when a more manly attitude would have been more indicative of freedom.”
The sculptor, Charlestown-born Thomas Ball, modeled the head on a photograph of Archer Alexander, the last slave recaptured under the Fugitive Slave Act. Ball used himself as a model for the body. In his autobiography, Ball stated that he had considered using Africans living near his studio in Florence as models, but found none “good enough to compensate for the unpleasantness of being obliged to conduct him through our apartment.”
Another argument for removing the statue.
No message of empowerment here — the statue needs to go
Having grown up in Lower Roxbury and the South End, I can remember the countless times my family would walk into town and pass that Lincoln statue in Park Square. I was elated to see Mission Hill resident Tory Bullock’s efforts to get this statue removed from where it has stood since the 19th century. Even as a child, I was embarrassed by this statue, which seemed so demeaning to Black Bostonians.
It seems more like a period piece showing just how white America in the North felt about President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. I am with Bullock — there is no way anyone can look at this monument and its depiction without feeling the helplessness of all those freed slaves. There is no empowerment in it.
As for me, a Sicilian-Irish second-generation American, I agree that it is time to remove this monument from the public square. Sadly, this statue was always about Lincoln and never about those who suffered life in slavery.
We could create a new ‘freedom trail’ in Boston
The imagery in Park Square of Abraham Lincoln standing above a liberated Black slave is disturbing. Perhaps it would be redeemed as part of a sequence of monuments placing it into context and telling the true, complex, and unfinished story of slavery and African-Americans. I think of a grand multichapter series, with the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., as a model.
A brutally honest portrayal of torment, humiliation, hypocrisy, courage, and hope could, in itself, inspire memory, dedication, and change. A truly central location in Boston, defining a deep commitment to a new era of awareness and intention in our city, would be appropriate — something visible enough and honest enough to acknowledge the magnitude of the harms that have been done to the African-American community.
Of course, this cannot be a substitute for action, but it could serve as the “truth” component, and as an inspiration for the “reconciliation” part, of an eventual truth and reconciliation.
It would require deliberation and, no doubt, debate among historians and artists to define the chapters, content, and sequencing. Following the model of the FDR Memorial, each chapter, represented by a “room,” would include multiple representations. Maybe there would be a place for the current Lincoln statue as just one part of one “room” that would represent it, less offensively, as one historical perspective on one point in history. But the ultimate effect would be to create a new “freedom trail” in Boston.
So many statues and icons, so little time . . .
I found myself in accord with the petition to remove the statue of Lincoln and an emancipated slave. I would also request that the statue of the famine victims be removed — they look too forlorn, destitute, and hungry. And can we remove the images of the crucifix from the churches? That image of suffering is too blatant. Maybe we can get the Taliban to follow up on their destruction of the Buddhas in Afghanistan and help us out here.
The solution is in the inscription
Regarding the controversy over the “Great Emancipator” statue, Lincoln himself probably would have concerns about this statue and its inscription. Perhaps, though, the problem can be fixed by replacing the inscription with something Lincoln said when he was faced with a real-life situation strikingly similar to that depicted in the statue.
On the fall of the capital of the Confederacy in Richmond, Lincoln toured the liberated city. As he walked, a Black man came up to him, fell on his knees, and grabbed the hand of the president. As James M. McPherson writes in “Battle Cry of Freedom,” Lincoln bid him to stand up, saying, “Don’t kneel to me. That is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.”
Replacing the current inscription with that quote would highlight both the character of Lincoln and the human dignity of the liberated African slaves.
Correction: Because of an editing error, Tory Bullock’s last name was misstated in the photo caption of an earlier version of this file.