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Boston to remove controversial monument depicting Lincoln standing over freed slave

The Emancipation Group.
The Emancipation Group.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/file

The city will take down a controversial statue depicting Abraham Lincoln standing over a half-dressed, kneeling formerly enslaved man after the Boston Art Commission Tuesday voted for its removal.

“As we continue our work to make Boston a more equitable and just city, it’s important that we look at the stories being told by the public art in all of our neighborhoods,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement.

“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. I fully support the Boston Art Commission’s decision for removal and thank them for their work.”

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“The Emancipation Group” is a replica of a statue in Washington D.C. by Charlestown-born 19th-century sculptor Thomas Ball. The statue has been criticized since its installation for the demeaning pose of the formerly enslaved man. The man depicted is Archer Alexander, a Black man who helped the Union Army and fled slavery and was again enslaved under the Fugitive Slave Act.

The replica in Park Square, next to the Park Plaza Hotel in the Back Bay, was an 1879 gift of Moses Kimball, a local politician, according to the city.

The monument has come under scrutiny in recent weeks as protests against racism have led communities to reexamine monuments of slave traders and Civil War generals, as well as those that are perceived to demean Black men and women.

Dorchester native Tory Bullock recently launched a petition drive calling for the statue’s removal. By 10 p.m. Tuesday, it had 12,650 signatures. Walsh quickly supported the effort, and his office said in early June that he would work with the commission to ensure the statue was removed.

Others opposed the proposal, including Keith Winstead, a distant relative of Alexander who believes the monument is a tribute to a critical period in Black history and to an American hero who risked his life to help Union soldiers during the Civil War.

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“It’s sad. It’s really sad,” Winstead said Tuesday night after the vote. “You can’t change history.”

Winstead said he would like to see the statue moved to Alexander’s grave site near St. Louis, where Winstead lives. “There is a place for it here,” he said.

A date has not yet been set for the statue’s removal. Until then, temporary signage with interpretive information about it will be posted, and later it will replaced with permanent signage, the city said.

Before its removal, the Arts Commission will bring in an art conservator to document the process, recommend the method of removal, and supervise the taking of the statue from Park Square to place it into temporary storage, the city said.

The panel will also commission the detailed document of the statue for its archives, potentially including photos from the current installation site, drawings of the work, its written history, and a three-dimensional scan of the statue, the city said.


The commission will continue planning for the statue’s removal when it meets July 14, the city said.




Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox. Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.