Preserve the Emancipation Statue in Boston

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Boston should preserve the Emancipation Statue as a reminder to the public of one of the most important acts of our nation’s history, the act of emancipation. The Boston Art Commission, consisting of five members appointed by the mayor, recently voted unanimously to remove the Emancipation Memorial from Park Square in Boston. Mayor Marty Walsh had said he was for the removal of the statue. The issue was raised by Tory Bullock, who started a petition to have the statue removed citing racism and a whitewashing of history.

This monument is a replica of one funded by former slaves and abolitionists, and it celebrates and memorializes emancipation—the liberation of the slaves—one of the most important moments in the history of this country. The statue shows President Abraham Lincoln delivering his orders to free the slaves in Confederate states with the Emancipation Proclamation. The slave is shown straining his own muscles to break the chains around his wrists that held him down.

Abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass, speaks of the design by Charlestown, MA native, Thomas Ball, in the appendix (pg. 19) of his keynote address at the dedication for the original statue in DC in 1876: “the emancipated slave [is] an agent in his own deliverance. … A far greater degree of dignity and vigor, as well as of historical accuracy, is thus imparted.” The former slave is not kneeling with both knees on the ground, Lincoln is not helping him up, his head his not bowed in subjugation. The freedman is rising to his new freedom.

The original statue in Washington, DC’s Lincoln Park was funded entirely by former slaves and abolitionists. Charlotte Scott, a former slave woman, was so upset by the assassination of Lincoln, she gave five dollars—a large sum of money for her—to initiate an effort to build him a memorial. In the appendix (pg. 18) of his keynote address, Douglass speaks of Ms. Scott. He describes Lincoln as “honored” and “loved,” so Ms. Scott was “distressed” when she “went … to her mistress—that had been, for she was then free—and said to her: ‘The colored people have lost their best friend on earth! Mr. Lincoln was our best friend, and I will give five dollars of my wages towards erecting a monument to his memory.’” Douglass says “the foundation of this beautiful and appropriate memorial which we now see before us” is the “grain of mustard seed, contributed by Charlotte Scott in gratitude to her deliverer.” 

Black soldiers from the US Colored Troops in Natchez, MS contributed some of their pay as well. The statue was commissioned by the Western Sanitary Commission, an agency led by abolitionists. The replica in Boston was donated by a local politician, Moses Kimball, a city councilor who also added to the New England Museum and founded the Lowell and Boston Museums.

The Emancipation Memorial symbolizes our nation’s achievements, not the country’s shortcomings. Lincoln fought a war to keep the Union together, and he fought to correct America’s greatest sin. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free Confederate slaves, and that led to the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery. The Emancipation Memorial, the Freedmen’s Memorial, is a memorial to Ms. Scott, Archer Alexander, whom the freedman represents, and every single slave that was liberated.

To remove the statute would be a disgrace to the men and women—slave, free, freed—who fought for freedom in the American Civil War. The city of Boston should let the memorial stand.