BOSTON — The “Emancipation Group” statue, put up in Boston’s Park Square in 1879, has been taken down after an online petition with more than 7,000 signatures called for its removal in June.
The statue, a replica of the original Emancipation Memorial in Washington D.C., was designed by Charlestown-native Thomas Ball. The base now sits empty but the inscription that reads “A race set free and the country at peace. Lincoln rests from his labors” remains.
The monument was designed to memorialize the emancipation of slaves after the Civil War. It shows President Abraham Lincoln standing and holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation with one hand while holding his other hand over a slave, who is shirtless, with broken shackles and kneeling at the president’s feet.
After months of debate combined with protests calling for equity and racial justice, the Boston Art Commission voted unanimously to remove the statue in July.
Boston 25 spoke with Boston University professor Raul Fernandez who studied the monument and what it represents.
Fernandez says the statue uses a subservient Black man as a prop to lift up a white savior. He added that Abraham Lincoln deserves respect, but it shouldn’t come this way.
“It’s easy to look at statues like Robert E. Lee and Confederate generals and say well clearly that has no place in our public spaces now, but this one for a lot of people is a lot more complicated,” Fernandez said. “This is a moment of change for us and a moment of opportunity. To see a statue like this that has been there for 100+ years and now come down is not an easy thing.”
Fernandez hopes the conversation about public art leads to further discussion about public policy.
The Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture and Boston Art Commission released a statement in early December about the removal.
The Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture and the Boston Art Commission began a public engagement process over the summer that led to the decision to remove and relocate the Emancipation Group statue. Over the course of two public hearings that allowed hundreds of residents to express their feelings, and after taking into account the petition from local artist Tory Bullock that gained more than 12,000 signatures to remove the statue, we’re pleased to have taken it down this morning. As expressed by so many during the public process this year, we fully agree that the statue should be relocated to a new publicly accessible location where its history and context can be better explained. The statue is being stored in a controlled storage facility in South Boston until a new location is determined.
The decision for removal acknowledges the statue’s role in perpetuating harmful prejudices and obscuring the role of Black Americans in shaping the nation’s fight for freedom. We’re eager to continue the public conversation that’s underway, and we’ll soon begin a series of virtual panel discussions and short-term art installations examining and reimagining our cultural symbols, public art, and histories.— Mayor Walsh spokesperson
More information about the statue and its removal can be found here.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.
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