Emancipation Memorial, Park Square, Boston

The Emancipation Memorial at Park Square, photographed around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Park Square in 2015:

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This statue at Park Square is a copy of the original Emancipation Memorial at Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C., which was designed by Charlestown, Massachusetts native Thomas Ball and dedicated in 1876.  Designed to memorialize Abraham Lincoln and his role as the “Great Emancipator,” it shows Lincoln standing over a slave who is kneeling in front of him, with shackles on his wrist.  The original was paid for entirely by donations from freed slaves, but it has not been without controversy.  At the dedication ceremony, Frederick Douglass was reported to have criticized the slave’s position on his knees, and more recent historians have also objected to his seemingly inferior position in front of Lincoln.

Boston’s copy of the statue was donated to the city in 1879 by local politician Moses Kimball.  It has a different pedestal than the Washington one, which reads “A race set free and the country at peace Lincoln rests from his labors.”  The statue’s appearance has changed very little over the years, except for the planters at each corner.  However, the surrounding neighborhood has completely changed. The buildings behind the statue in the first photo show signs for a plumbing supply company, furniture upholsterers, and even Cuban cigars, over 50 years before they were outlawed.  On the extreme right is one of the buildings from the former Boston and Providence Railroad depot, which closed a few years earlier when the railroad was rerouted to South Station. Today, the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, which was built in 1927 and is just out of view in the 2015 photo, stands on the site of the former depot.

17 thoughts on “Emancipation Memorial, Park Square, Boston”

  1. This Statue is disrespectful and distasteful. The fact that the city would keep this standing is a sign that racism in Boston is alive and well. It must come down.

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    • This monument, named “Emancipation” is a representation of the emancipation of slaves in America. It is a copy of one that resides in Washington, DC, which was commissioned by the Western Sanitary Commission and paid for by former black slaves. Lincoln is posed holding a scroll representing the Emancipation Proclamation, while a slave, haven broken his chains, is rising from his knees. It is the act of emancipation.
      The slave in the sculpture was modeled from a photograph of an actual slave, Archer Alexander, who was the last slave captured under the Fugitive Slave Act, and was freed by the Provost Marshall of St. Louis. He was never spent another day of his life in bondage.
      Funding for the monument was initiated by a freed slave woman, Charlotte Scott, who was upset at the assassination of President Lincoln and gave five dollars of her wages, (a great deal of money for her, at the time) to start an effort to build a memorial to Lincoln. Black soldiers from the U.S. Colored Troops in Natchez, MS then contributed an additional $12,150 from their pay toward the monument. The rest of the $17,000 was paid for with subscriptions by like minded benefactors.
      The sculpture expresses the act of emancipation, in which both Lincoln and the slave play their part. Lincoln delivering his order as Commander-in-Chief over a column representing the United States, and the slave, modeled to show that he is using his own exertion and muscles to break the chains holding him down as he begins to rise. It is not a representation of white supremacy. It is not a representation of black servility. It captures an act, perhaps the most important act in the history of the country, and achieves this in dramatic fashion.
      But the ignorance of some with no idea what it is, it’s history, or what it represents, and who look at the sculpture and decide that it is something offensive, have started a petition to have it removed from public view. Boston’s Mayor, Martin Walsh agrees with them, and is looking to remove it.
      This is a tragedy perpetrated by a group who should be working for the truth in American history. This will be the destruction of a legacy of the people who were actually held in bondage. Does anyone alive today know better about the intentions and feelings of the people who actually put it there?
      I am saddened and disappointed that this great work of art will be removed because of ignorance and a misguided thirst to destroy anything which does not support the current popular narrative.
      Those, like me, who thought we were more thoughtful and mature than this, as a society, were sadly mistaken.

      Reply
      • The sculpture is the work of Thomas Ball, Boston’s most influential sculptor. Mr. Ball established an artist colony in Florence, Italy for American artists to learn sculpture, painting and other fine arts from European masters. Among his students was Daniel Chester French and Martin Milmore.
        Mr. Ball sculpted many major works of art, including the Emancipation Group, and the Washington equestrian monument on the Boston Public Garden. His work was included in such major exhibitions as the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

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      • Very intellectually put. I was offended when I first read it but after reading your comment I’m completely changed. Great history lesson

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  2. Relax. History is just that…… History.
    Those who do not read history, are doomed to repeat it.
    Again, Relax Francis.

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    • …, we entreat you to despise not the humble offering we this day unveil to view; for while Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage, according to Jefferson, one hour of which was worse than ages of the oppression your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose.

      — F Douglass speaking at unveiling of monument

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  3. It may be history but it is offensive….How many white people out there would want to get treated like black people.. I am white…I know I wouldn’t. You don’t know how it feels unless you’re in there shoes…It’s 2020 white people…. BLACK LIVES MATTER

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  4. First, I am a conservative. I love America. I detest the Marxist rhetoric that has come about by left wing groups to destroy American history, of all types.
    But, without anger toward Lincoln or those that respect him, this statue is a false representation of history. Lincoln was dead when all slaves were freed. His Gettysburg address did not free all slaves, only those in occupied territory of the South that his Marxist army had conquered. One might want to know that this wonderful army and it’s commanders allowed the kidnapping and raping of minority girls and that they would discard them, penniless in the cold winter, with no food or supplies when they tired of them. The army also conscripted black men to build embankments during the sieges of southern cities and when blacks were allowed to put on uniforms and fight (they also volunteered for the South), they were ordered into the worst of the front line offenses (where they did fight bravely).
    I am tired of seeing false history portrayed for the youth of today. YES, take down this statue and put up a statue of Lincoln as a president. Not the best president, by any stretch of the imagination, but he was a president.

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  5. You are looking at it all wrong. It is not glorifying slavery or demeaning black people though it would have been better if the artist had portrayed the freed slave in a standing position. It is an ugly part of our nation’s history to be sure, and one we are not proud of, but we must learn from the past to make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Please keep in mind this depicts a victory for the slaves. Also remember it was paid for by freed slaves, and the whole country was not and is not racist. There were many abolitionists and members of the Underground Railroad who helped free slaves often at great risk to themselves and their families. In the colonial days at least in the North there were black people who had their own businesses, and some even held offices in the local government. It is unfortunate that there are still ignorant people who are racist. Maybe someday they will learn. Yes, black lives do matter, but all lives matter regardless of the skin color. Don’t take it down unless you replace it with a freed slave in a standing position.

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  6. Kevin Tucker’s comment accurately describes the action in the memorial. It is Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, and the slave removing his chains. It depicts that single important moment of USA history. The slave is not standing equal yet at that time in history.
    And i would go further to say, the freed race is not today standing equal in the USA.
    So i propose we update the message on the memorial to remind all races that the struggle for equality never ends. . And we should keep the memorial as it stands. We have learned more since the Civil War, and the added words reflect the new ideas.
    The current words should remain, “A race set free and the country at peace, LINCOLN rests from his labors”. And on the next lower level of the pedestal we should engrave, “And the race set free begins a centuries long labor to stand equal.”
    I think this message could inspire black people to continue the quest for equality. And this message should remind white people that the one proclamation 157 years ago was only a starting point of change.

    Reply

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