A statue of former President Abraham Lincoln emancipating a slave was removed Tuesday from downtown Boston after the city’s public arts commission voted unanimously to take it down over the summer.
“The decision for removal acknowledged the statue’s role in perpetuating harmful prejudices and obscuring the role of Black Americans in shaping the nation’s freedoms,” the commission said in a statement.
Boston’s Democratic Mayor Martin Walsh praised the commission’s decision over the summer, saying, “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. I fully support the Boston Art Commission’s decision for removal and thank them for their work.”
“The Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture and the Boston Art Commission began a public engagement process over the summer that led to the decision to remove and relocate the Emancipation Group statue. … As expressed by so many during the public process this year, we fully agree that the statue should be relocated to a new publicly accessible location where its history and context can be better explained. The statue is being stored in a controlled storage facility in South Boston until a new location is determined,” a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said.
The statue, known as the Emancipation Group, the Emancipation Memorial, or the Freedman’s Memorial, is an 1879 copy of an original that was erected in Washington, D.C., in 1876 during a ceremony that featured an oration from Frederick Douglass.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, some objected over the summer to the image of a slave kneeling before Lincoln, so much so that the National Guard placed barricades around the version in Washington to prevent protesters from toppling it.
The first statue was initially paid for with funds donated by freed slaves, and Archer Alexander served as the model for the statue, who was himself a slave who fled his farm and assisted the Union.
William Greenleaf Eliot, who was a friend of Alexander and for whom Alexander worked after escaping slavery, wrote his biography in 1885. At the end of the book, Eliot summarized Alexander’s life and also recorded how happy Alexander was to learn that he was the model for the Emancipation Memorial:
It is the record of a humble life, but one which was conformed, up to the full measure of ability, to the law of the gospel. I have felt as proud of the long-continued friendship and confidence of Archer Alexander as of any one I have known.
He was, I believe, the last fugitive slave taken in Missouri under the old laws of slavery. His freedom came directly from the hand of President Lincoln, by provost-marshal authority, and his own hands had helped to break the chains that bound him. His oldest son had given his life to the cause.
When I showed to him the photographic picture of the “Freedom’s Memorial” monument, soon after its inauguration in Washington, and explained to him its meaning, and that he would thus be remembered in connection with Abraham Lincoln, the emancipator of his race, he laughed all over. He presently sobered down and exclaimed, “Now I’se a white man! Now I’se free! I thank the good Lord that he has ‘livered me from all my troubles, and I’se lived to see this.”