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1 Jul, 2020 05:57

Boston to pull Lincoln emancipation memorial following activist outcry over ‘demeaning’ depiction of freed slave

Boston to pull Lincoln emancipation memorial following activist outcry over ‘demeaning’ depiction of freed slave

The city of Boston has voted to take down a 19th century statue honoring Abraham Lincoln and the freeing of the slaves, arguing that residents view its depiction of a kneeling black man as demeaning.

In a vote on Tuesday, Boston’s Art Commission resolved to remove the monument, with Mayor Martin Walsh stating the decision was part of a broader push to “make Boston a more equitable and just city.” The move will cost the city at least $15,000, according to Boston public art director Karin Goodfellow.

“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, adding “I fully support the Boston Art Commission’s decision for removal.”

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The statue is a copy of a similar monument in the nation’s capital, created by sculptor Thomas Ball in 1876 and meant to depict Archer Alexander, a black man who assisted the Union Army during the Civil War. The kneeling scene is derived from an account put forward by David Dixon Porter – a Civil War-era Navy admiral and author – who wrote that newly freed slaves, upon seeing Lincoln touring the streets of Richmond, Virginia after the defeat of Confederate troops there, dropped to their knees in praise. 

Among a number of other monuments, activists have vowed to remove the original version of the emancipation statue in Washington, DC, saying it downplays the role of African Americans in the fight against slavery, handing all credit to Lincoln. The sculpture was initially funded by freed slaves, who raised thousands of dollars to see it built, but that, too, has courted controversy, as they were given no say in its design.

A number of netizens weighed in on the decision, some slamming the move as “wrong” and “delusional,” while others argued the artwork is “inspirational” and voiced disappointment that it would be removed.

While it’s unclear what will happen to the monument, the city said it did not intend to remove the artwork from its collection altogether, suggesting it could be loaned to a museum or placed into storage. Local artist Tory Bullock has urged the former option, stating the statue’s “great craftsmanship” could still be admired in a museum, and that the move would “finally, respectfully put this image away while never forgetting its history.”

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