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Boston removes ‘Emancipation Group’ statue of freed slave kneeling at Abraham Lincoln’s feet

Abraham Lincoln Emancipation statue. (U.S. government/Wikimedia Commons)

The city of Boston has removed a statue of Abraham Lincoln standing before a kneeling freed slave, a piece that was criticized this year as the country grappled with tensions surrounding race, justice and the treatment of Black people in America.

The “Emancipation Group” statue is a bronze recasting of Freedmen’s Memorial by Boston artist Thomas Ball that was set up in Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Park in 1876. Aiming to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation and honor Lincoln, the replica statue was created three years later. It was installed in Boston in 1879 and is located in a park not far from Boston Common.

Samantha Ormsby, a spokesperson for the office of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, confirmed the replica statue was being removed from Boston’s Park Square early Tuesday.

Over the summer, Boston’s arts commission voted unanimously to have the statue removed. The city previously said the work would be taken away before the end of 2020 pending weather and contractor availability.

The kneeling figure is based on a photograph of Archer Alexander, a formerly enslaved man who helped the Union Army before seeking freedom for himself and his family. Alexander was recaptured several times under the Fugitive Slave Act but managed to escape. He evaded abductors until the passage of the 13th Amendment.

Many Boston residents have said they were bothered by the statue’s depiction of a black man kneeling before the former president.

Even before the unrest of 2020, the statue was examined by city officials. In 2018, a study of Boston’s art collection by the Boston Art Commission recommended the statue’s removal and relocation to a museum or educational setting.

This year, a petition by Boston artist Tory Bullock secured more than 12,000 signatures to remove the statue. And, city officials during a public engagement process over the summer heard public testimony during two hearings and received more than 160 letters and 645 survey responses.

“Public art is storytelling at the street level. As such, the imagery should strike the heart and engage the mind. What I heard today is that it hurts to look at this piece, and in the Boston landscape we should not have works that bring shame to any group of people, not only in Boston but across the entire United States,” said Ekua Holmes, a Boston artist and vice-chair of the Boston Art Commission, at a June 30 public hearing.

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