The Art Commission of Boston, Massachusetts has unanimously voted to remove the city’s Emancipation Memorial monument which depicts President Abraham Lincoln standing above a kneeling freed slave.
The inscription on both reads: “A race set free and the country at peace. Lincoln rests from his labors.”
The statue is a copy of the one found in Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Park. Donated to the city of Boston in 1879 by circus entrepreneur Moses Kimball and sculptor Thomas Ball, the monument stands in Park Square.
The Boston Arts Commission decision, according to WBUR, came after two hours of public comment
“What I heard today is that it hurts to look at this piece, and in the Boston landscape, we should not have works that bring shame to any groups of people,” said Ekua Holmes, vice-chairperson of the commission.
“After engaging in a public process, it’s clear that residents and visitors to Boston have been uncomfortable with this statue,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement. “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.”
To date, over 12,000 people have signed a petition demanding the statue’s removal. Officials did not immediately set a date for the removal of the monument, instead planning its “next steps” to be discussed at the commission’s next meeting on July 14.
Although the monument was created to celebrate Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the controversial optics of the president towering above a Black American have long been debated.
Though freedmen financed the original monument in Washington, their input was not sought in the design of the statue by Ball.
Frederick Douglass, America’s renowned abolitionist who was born into slavery himself, was not short on criticism of Lincoln or the statue itself when he delivered the keynote speech at the Washington statue’s dedication ceremony in 1876. Douglass noted that Lincoln had previously admitted that, if he could do so, he would have freed none, some, or all slaves so long as it meant an end to the Civil War and that the sixteenth president “strangely told [Black Americans] that we were the cause of the war.”
Of the statue itself, Douglass said that it “showed the Negro on his knees when a more manly attitude would have been indicative of freedom.”
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