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Controversial monument depicting Lincoln standing over a freed slave removed from the Back Bay

Workers removed the "Emancipation Group" sculpture from Park Square Tuesday morning. The statue depicts a formerly enslaved man kneeling at the feet of President Abraham Lincoln.
Workers removed the "Emancipation Group" sculpture from Park Square Tuesday morning. The statue depicts a formerly enslaved man kneeling at the feet of President Abraham Lincoln.Jennifer Eagan/WCVB.com

A controversial statue depicting Abraham Lincoln standing over a half-dressed, formerly enslaved man has been removed from its longtime location in Boston’s Back Bay, months after the city’s Art Commission voted to take it down amid a nationwide reckoning on racial justice.

On Tuesday morning, workers took the statue, “Emancipation Group,” from its perch in Park Square across the street from the Park Plaza Hotel.

“Over the course of two public hearings that allowed hundreds of residents to express their feelings, and after taking into account the petition from local artist Tory Bullock that gained more than 12,000 signatures to remove the statue, we’re pleased to have taken it down this morning,” a spokesperson for Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement.

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“As expressed by so many during the public process this year, we fully agree that the statue should be relocated to a new publicly accessible location where its history and context can be better explained,” Walsh’s office added.

The city said the statue will be stored in a controlled facility in South Boston until a new location is chosen.

The mayor’s spokesperson also said the removal “acknowledges the statue’s role in perpetuating harmful prejudices and obscuring the role of Black Americans in shaping the nation’s fight for freedom.”

Walsh in June had voiced support for the commission’s vote to remove the monument, a replica of a statue in Washington, D.C., by the Charlestown-born 19th-century sculptor Thomas Ball.

The statue has been criticized since its installation for the demeaning pose of the former slave. The man depicted is Archer Alexander, a Black man who helped the Union Army and fled from slavery, but was again enslaved under the Fugitive Slave Act.

The replica in Park Square was an 1879 gift from Moses Kimball, a local politician, according to the city.

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The monument came under scrutiny earlier this year as protests against racism led municipalities to reexamine monuments to slave traders and Civil War generals, as well as those that are perceived to demean Black men and women. Archer in the statue is half-dressed and kneeling at the feet of Lincoln.

“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 June statement.

An empty pedestal is all that remains after a controversial statue called 'The Emancipation Group' was removed from Park Square Tuesday.
An empty pedestal is all that remains after a controversial statue called 'The Emancipation Group' was removed from Park Square Tuesday. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

A sign installed by the city where the statue sat detailed the rationale for the removal and plans for the monument going forward.

“On June 30, 2020, after five hours of verbal testimony and discussion, the Boston Art Commission voted unanimously to document and remove Emancipation Group, starting a process to relocate it to a new publicly accessible location where it could be better explained,” the sign said.

It continued, “The decision acknowledged the statue’s role in perpetuating harmful prejudices and obscuring the role of Black Americans in shaping the nation’s freedoms. . . . It will be placed in storage until a new location can be identified.”



Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.