"The negro here, though rising, is still on his knees and nude," Frederick Douglass once wrote of the statue

By Jason Duaine Hahn
December 30, 2020 04:54 PM
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The "Great Emancipator" statue
Credit: Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty

A statue in a Boston public park that depicted a formerly enslaved man on his knees in front of President Abraham Lincoln was dismantled this week, 141 years after it was erected.

The removal of the Emancipation Group statue in Park Square on Tuesday comes months after the Boston Art Commission voted to remove it by the end of year, according to the Boston HeraldThe decision came in June, at the height of nationwide protests that took place following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer.

While highlighting systemic racism around the country, protesters also turned their attention to statues and monuments that praised the Confederate Army and its generals, presidents and soldiers, leading to the removal of many.

While the Emancipation Group statue was initially meant to commemorate the liberation of slaves, critics said its depiction of the formerly enslaved man on his knees in front of a white man did little to celebrate his freedom.

"One can view the freedman, with his nudity and kneeling position, as bereft of his dignity and agency, and, contrastingly, the fully clothed Lincoln, with his hand extending over him, as a demonstration of white mastery and supremacy," reads a critique of the statue published in the Harvard Library.

The "Great Emancipator" statue
The "Great Emancipator" statue
| Credit: JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty

Tory Bullock, who helped push the petition for the statue's removal, said he also interpreted the monument in a negative light.

“At the top of my petition, I described being a kid and I would always ask myself, ‘If he’s free, why is he still on his knees?’ After this, no kid will ever have to ask that again,” Bullock told the Boston Herald.

According to CNN, the statue is a replica of one erected in Washington D.C. It's based on a picture of Archer Alexander, who was born into slavery.

"I'm proud, I'm Black and I'm young," Bullock told the outlet. "This image has been doing a lot of disservice to African Americans in Boston and now it stops."

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The statue will not be destroyed, but will rather be relocated to a location where "its history and context can be better explained," a spokesperson for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh told CNN.

"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," they said.