BOSTON (WCVB) — Nearly six months after the Boston Art Commission voted unanimously to take down a controversial statue, workers removed the “The Emancipation Group” sculpture Tuesday morning.
The statue, also known as the “Freedman’s Memorial,” depicts a freed slave kneeling at President Abraham Lincoln’s feet. It had stood in Park Square since 1879 and is a copy of another sculpture in Washington, D.C.
The sculpture of the slave is based on Archer Alexander, a Black man who assisted the Union Army, escaped slavery and was the last man recaptured under the Fugitive Slave Act.
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The Boston Art Commission voted at the end of June to take the statue down after a group of Boston’s religious leaders led a protest against the statue on Juneteenth, the holiday which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.
“It’s demeaning, with the Black man on his knees, with Lincoln’s hand over his head — and what bothered me the most when I looked at it the other day was, the Black man on his knees still has the chains on his hands,” Rev. Miniard Culpepper, senior pastor of the Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church, said at the time.
The group of faith leaders, Clergy United, said they also sent a letter to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in which they requested the removal of the statue. They argue the depiction reinforces racist thinking.
“Removing this statue from public view is not denying history, but, rather, correcting a mistake,” said the letter. “We know that you support removing this statue and hope you take swift and immediate action in doing so,” the letter concluded.
A petition to remove the statue had garnered over 12,000 signatures. The petition was spearheaded by Tory Bullock, an African American man who says he’s been seeing the statue since he was a kid.
“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,” Walsh said in a June statement. “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 unanimous vote to remove the bronze sculpture depicting Lincoln standing over a freed slave came with the following conditions:
Engagement of an art conservator to document, recommend how the bronze statue is removed, and supervise its removal and placement into temporary storage;
Commissioning of detailed documentation of the artwork into Boston Art Commission archives, which may include photography of the statue in situ, drawings, and a 3D scan, as well as the history of the piece and the process that the Boston Art Commission took in order to make this decision;
Creation of a public event that will acknowledge the statue’s history and inform the public;
Initiation of a process to determine how to recontextualize the existing statue in a new publicly accessible setting; and
Addition of temporary signage to the site to interpret the statue prior to its removal and permanent signage after the removal.
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