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Boston Commission Unanimously Votes to Remove Emancipation Memorial

‘In the Boston landscape we should not have works that bring shame to any groups of people…’

Boston Commission Unanimously Votes to Remove Emancipation Memorial
Freedman’s Memorial in Boston Commons / IMAGE: WCVB Channel 5 Boston via YouTube

(Claire Russel, Liberty Headlines) The Boston Art Commission unanimously voted this week to remove its Freedman’s Memorial, a statue that depicts Abraham Lincoln alongside a freed slave, following accusations that the statue is racially divisive.

The memorial has been in place near Boston Common since 1879, and reads “A race set free/ and the country at peace/ Lincoln / rests from his labors.” But because the statue shows a black man kneeling by Lincoln, activists have demanded that it be taken down.

“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,” said Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, according to the Boston Herald.

Walsh said he supports the Boston Art Commission’s decision to take the statue down. It will cost at least $15,000 to remove the memorial, and the commission has not yet decided whether it will be given to a museum or put away in storage.

“Public art is storytelling at the street level. As such, the imagery should strike the heart and engage the mind,” said Ekua Holmes, vice-chairwoman of the Boston Art Commission.

“What I heard today is that it hurts to look at this piece,” Ekua continued, “and in the Boston landscape we should not have works that bring shame to any groups of people, not only in Boston but across the entire United States.”

The Boston statue is a copy of the original memorial, which is located in Washington, D.C. in Lincoln Park. Activists have also tried to tear down the D.C. memorial, despite the protests of black Americans who have defended the statue. It was paid for and built by freed slaves after the Civil War.

Activists who think the statue is problematic haven’t looked closely at it, said said Marcia Cole, a member of the African American Civil War Museum’s Female RE-Enactors of Distinction (FREED) program.

The freed slave isn’t kneeling before Lincoln, she explained. Rather, he’s looking up towards freedom, and he holds his broken chain in his own hands.

“People tend to think of that figure as being servile but on second look you will see something different, perhaps. That man is not kneeling on two knees with his head bowed. He is in the act of getting up. And his head is up, not bowed because he’s looking forward to a future of freedom,” she said.

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