A controversial Boston statue of Abraham Lincoln standing over a freed slave will be removed.
The Emancipation Group, a copy of a statue in Washington D.C. created by Thomas Ball. Photo courtesy of the Boston Art Commission.
The city of Boston plans to remove a controversial statue that depicts U.S. President Abraham Lincoln standing over a free slave; the Boston Art Commission voted for the removal of the statue yesterday.
This decision was spurred, in part, by recent protests demanding the removal of monuments around the world that for many symbolize colonialism and white supremacy. The statue, The Emancipation Group, is a replica of a bronze monument created by sculptor Thomas Ball that stands in Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Park. The Boston version was gifted to the city in 1879 by a local politician. It has been criticized for its degrading portrayal of a previously enslaved man named Archer Alexander who is shown half-clothed, kneeling below Lincoln. During the Civil War, Alexander helped the Union Army and fled slavery, but was eventually enslaved again under the Fugitive Slave Act.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a press release:
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. 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.
While some saw the decision as an important step in fighting anti-racism, others—including Alexander’s distant relative, Keith Winstead—opposed the removal of the statue. Winstead thinks the monument is a powerful commemoration of an American hero and of a crucial moment in Black history. There has been no date set for the removal of the statue, nor any details revealed about the “new publicly accessible setting” where it will be relocated.
Cities and institutions around the United States and the world are being forced to examine long standing monuments and what they symbolize for their communities. Last week, the American Museum of Natural History announced plans to remove a statue of Theodore Roosevelt that has stood at its entrance since 1940. In recent weeks, protesters have toppled statues commemorating Confederate officials and other historical figures who profited from and sought to perpetuate slavery.