More than 9,600 people have backed an online push to remove the Emancipation memorial in Boston’s Park Square, with many slamming the statue for the same reason that Frederick Douglass reportedly critiqued the original in Washington, D.C., in 1876: it depicts Abraham Lincoln standing tall over a freed slave on his knees.
“I’ve been watching this man on his knees since I was a kid. It’s supposed to represent freedom, but instead represents us still beneath someone else,” wrote Tory Bullock in an online petition signed by 9,660 people as of Monday night. “I would always ask myself, ‘If he’s free, why is he still on his knees?’ No kid should have to ask themselves that question anymore.”
Bullock’s petition comes as cities across Massachusetts and the country have seen protests over racial injustice and police brutality ever since the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In addition to calls for police reform, national leaders have debated the fate of Confederate monuments and the names of U.S. military installations honoring generals who fought against the Union to protect slavery. Statues of Christopher Columbus in Boston and other cities have been vandalized or taken down in recent days.
In a Facebook video last week, Bullock called on Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to tear down the statue or work with “artists that can erect that black man so he can stand up on his two feet … they can be shaking hands.”
Boston.com reported that Walsh supports rising calls to remove or change the statue. Walsh’s office said the mayor is interested in recommissioning the statue in favor of a memorial recognizing equality, Boston.com reported.
Washington City Paper wrote that John Cromwell, a Howard University historian, recorded remarks by Douglass at the dedication of the original statute which went unreported by newspapers at the time.
Douglass, the keynote speaker at the 1876 event, strayed from prepared remarks to say that the memorial, sculpted by Thomas Ball of Charlestown, Massachusetts, “showed the Negro on his knees when a more manly attitude would have been indicative of freedom,” according to Cromwell.
Statues of Columbus have been toppled or vandalized in a host of cities, including Miami, Richmond, St. Paul and Boston, where one was decapitated. The head of the statue was reported severed to Boston police sometime before midnight last Tuesday.
The statue in Boston’s North End has been damaged several times in recent years. In 2015, the statue was dosed in red paint with “Black Lives Matter” spray painted onto its base. In 2006, the head of the statue was removed and remained missing for several days.
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