Boston is taking down a statue of Abraham Lincoln standing over a freed Black man

The Abraham Lincoln Statue, erected in 1879, by Thomas Ball, is viewed in Park Square in Boston, Massachusetts on June 16, 2020. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images
  • The Boston Art Commission voted to remove “Freedman’s Memorial” from the city’s Park Square on Tuesday night.
  • The statue depicts a formerly enslaved man in broken shackles kneeling before former President Abraham Lincoln.
  • Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said in a statement that people had been calling for the statue’s removal for years, over criticism that it was racist.
  • Calls to remove it were renewed in June when artist Tory Bullock launched a petition calling for the city to take it down.
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Boston’s Art Commission unanimously voted Tuesday night to remove a statue of former President Abraham Lincoln standing over a freed black man.

The statue, known as “Freedman’s Memorial” in the city’s Park Square, depicts a formerly enslaved man in broken shackles kneeling before Lincoln. The Black man featured in the statue was based on Archer Alexander, a Black man who “assisted the Union Army, escaped slavery, and was recaptured under the Fugitive Slave Act,” according to a statement from city officials.

The Art Commission said in its statement that Bostonians have spent years calling for the statue to be removed “due to its racial depiction of a Black person.”

“Many also feel it implies that one person ended slavery and misrepresents the complexity of United States history,” the statement said.

The push for the statue’s removal was renewed in June, when a local artist started a petition calling for action from the government, which now has more than 12,000 signatures.

“It says that it’s a statue that’s supposed to represent freedom. But, to me, it represents submissiveness. It represents ‘Know your place, because that’s where you belong,'” Tory Bullock, who started the petition, told WCBV-TV. “This is a great opportunity to get some local black artists involved in the creation of (a new) statue, to come up with something new that represents equality.”

“Freedman’s Memorial,” which is also known as “The Emancipation Group” statue, is a replica of the same statue in Washington, DC that was funded by freed slaves. The Arts Commission said it was a gift from a local politician.

“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,” Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said in the city’s statement about the vote.

The Arts Commission has not determined when the statue will be removed, or what will be put in its place. Officials said they will discuss options at a July 14 meeting.

“We need to engage in public dialogue to examine the inequities that exist in our public realm,” Kara Elliot-Ortega, chief of Arts and Culture for the City of Boston, said in a statement. “Who is represented in our artwork, which artists, and whose histories? I appreciate the immense contributions from the public and their thoughts for the future of ‘The Emancipation Group,’ and I look forward to using this process as a model for assessing other pieces in our collection.”

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