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Boston Will Remove Statue of Enslaved Man Kneeling at Feet of Abraham Lincoln


Emancipation Memorial Boston by Thomas Ball
The Emancipation Memorial in Boston (via Wikimedia Commons)

In a meeting today, July 1, the Boston Art Commission voted unanimously to remove the city’s Emancipation Memorial, which portrays an enslaved man kneeling at the feet of Abraham Lincoln.

The commission’s seven members reached their decision on Tuesday night after hearing arguments in favor of and against the controversial sculpture. The board tasked its staff with finding temporary storage for the sculpture and brainstorming suggested replacements. In addition, the commission said it will plan a public event to “acknowledge the statue’s history and inform the public.”

Created by Thomas Ball 1876 and erected in Boston in 1879, the statue depicts Lincoln holding the Emancipation Proclamation as he “frees” an enslaved Black man, who is said to be modeled on Archer Alexander. The freed man is depicted kneeling by the president’s feet with broken shackles on his wrists and ankles. It is one of three replicas of the original statue in Washington, DC, which is currently being challenged in a legislative proposal. An inscription at its base reads: “A race set free and the country at peace. Lincoln rests from his labors.”

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A postcard of the memorial from 1907-1908 (via Wikimedia Commons/New York Public Library)

The commission’s decision came at the backdrop of growing calls to remove the sculpture from the city’s Park Square. An online petition against the sculpture, launched by Boston resident Tory Bullock, reached more 12,ooo signatures prior to the Tuesday’s vote.

“I’ve been watching this man on his knees since I was a kid,” Bullock wrote in the petition. “It’s supposed to represent freedom but instead represents us still beneath someone else. I would always ask myself ‘If he’s free why is he still on his knees?’ No kid should have to ask themselves that question anymore.”

Bullock added that his goal is “not to destroy” the sculpture but to replace it with “something that truly represents its original intent.”

“What I heard today is that it hurts to look at this piece,” said the commission’s vice-chair and artist Ekua Holmes. “And I feel like on the Boston landscape we should not have works that bring shame to any group of people that are citizens, not just of Boston, but of the United States.”

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