Endangered Lincoln statue isn’t what it seems

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I guess statue destruction is the topic du jour, but do read about this one, as it raises some conflicts for protestors.

About ten days ago, I reported about a statue of Abraham Lincoln that might be pulled down or replaced. The original is The Emancipation Memorial (sculptor: Thomas Ball, erected in 1876) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D. C., and there’s a replica in Boston that was the subject of controversy.  Here it is:


In my post, I quoted a Boston site about the statue being endangered.

As WBUR News in Boston reports:

The statue in the city’s Park Square is a replica of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington and depicts Lincoln with one hand raised above a kneeling man with broken shackles on his wrists.

The statue is meant to show Lincoln freeing the man from slavery, but a petition against the statue says it “instead represents us still beneath someone else.”

The petition was started by Tory Bullock, a Boston man who says the statue has long led him to ask, “If he’s free why is he still on his knees?” His call to remove the memorial had attracted nearly 6,000 signatures as of Saturday.

The Boston Globe reports that Mayor Marty Walsh is in favor of removing the statue and is interested in replacing it with something that recognizes equality. Walsh’s office said the administration is looking into the process required to make the change.

Indeed, at first glance I found the statue, well, “cringeworthy”, but I added a caveat in my own take, a caveat that turned out to be crucial (my emphasis below):

I have to say that, in a modern context, it’s a tad cringeworthy. However, the question “If he’s free why is he still on his knees?” might not be relevant if Lincoln is seen in the process of raising up those who were downtrodden. A statue made today wouldn’t—and shouldn’t—show a crouching black man, but are we to tear this down because it was made in 1876, not long after Lincoln died? If you think it should stay up but be contextualized, how would you contextualize it? At least we don’t have to tear down statues of Lincoln by himself, like the great marble sculpture in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

But you know, I was too lazy to actually look up the statue, but was finally prompted to do so by this tweet from Sarah Haider, which has an African-American lady explaining the statue’s symbolism. Listen to what the woman on the video has to say:.

And Wikipedia verifies the woman’s words:

Designed and sculpted by Thomas Ball and erected in 1876, the monument depicts Abraham Lincoln holding a copy of his Emancipation Proclamation freeing a male African American slave modeled on Archer Alexander. The ex-slave is depicted on one knee, with one fist clenched, shirtless and broken shackles at the president’s feet.

The Emancipation Memorial statue was funded by the wages of freed slaves.

This gives the statue an entirely different meaning, and had I, or the purity sniffer Tory Bullock, looked it up, you’d find it not only inoffensive, but inspiring. And seriously, the original was erected by former slaves? No matter that the replica is in Boston: both statues convey the same message. Who would be so churlish to haul this statue down in light of its history?

Nevertheless, Tory Bullock, who seems to be black (if the picture below is him), persists. His question, “why is he still on his knees?”, is answered with “he won’t be for long”, though of course we still have the residuum of slavery. But the history of this statue, and what it’s supposed to show, convinces me that it should stay. If some get offended, well, too bad.

Bullock’s iPetititon (click on screenshot below), originally aimed to garner 1,000 signatures, now has over 12,500, and he reports this:

The Arts Commission in Boston has decided to hold a public hearing to shape and eventually VOTE on what happens to this statue. THANK YOU for signing the petition to get their attention but now it’s time to make YOUR VOICE HEARD! They’ll be taking live and written testimonials about the piece. I’m going to need the full squad on this one. This memorial has been up for more than 100 years and now is the time we all stand up…this is our chance to finally respectfully put this image away while NEVER forgetting its history.

Given the way things are going, only a few offended people are needed to sufficiently shame others, afraid to be called racists, to vote for tearing down a statue. As Greg reported this morning, two statues in Madison, Wisconsin have been pulled down even though they have no negative connotations and one of them was of an anti-slavery activist killed while fighting with the Union Army against Confederates.

This makes no sense. What we have here is hair-trigger Offense Detectors, which are so sensitive that they detect things that aren’t offensive. At some time we have to start pushing back against the mishigas, and that time is now.


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