Sunday, February 5, 2023

Boston officials vote to remove statue of Lincoln and enslaved Black man

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Boston officials have voted to remove “The Emancipation Group” statue depicting Abraham Lincoln and an enslaved Black man from a city square, saying the depiction reduced the role of African Americans in the abolition movement.

The unanimous decision by the Boston Art Commission late on Tuesday followed a month of nationwide protests against racism that led to the toppling of Confederate monuments honoring figures from the pro-slavery side in the American Civil War.

The commission said in a joint statement with Mayor Martin Walsh that it had not yet decided on a date for the removal of “The Emancipation Group statue,” a replica of a statue in Washington. The Boston statue was installed in Park Square in 1879.

“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,” Walsh said in the statement.

The commission will temporarily place the statue in storage and then “re-contextualize” it “in a new publicly accessible setting” yet to be chosen.

The statue features Abraham Lincoln standing above a kneeling Black man, and its inscription reads “A race set free/ and the country at peace / Lincoln / Rests from his labors.”

In the last month, U.S. public officials have called for the removal of statues of Confederate generals and European colonizers as anti-racism protesters organized to topple them.

In Richmond, Virginia, city crews were taking down a statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson with a crane and ropes on Wednesday, the same day a state law went into effect authorizing cities to remove Confederate monuments. Video footage on Twitter showed cheering crowds surrounding the crane and the statue of Jackson on horseback, its base covered in graffiti.

The Jackson statue was the first of several Confederate monuments that would be taken down in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, this week and placed in storage, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said in a video statement on Wednesday.

“These statues, although symbolic, have cast a shadow on the dreams of our children of color. By removing them, we can begin to heal and focus our attention on our future,” Stoney said.

Recent protests over racial injustice have revived a fierce national debate about the role of statues in the public sphere.

Among the opponents of removing Confederate statues is President Donald Trump, who has called the effort an erasure of history and culture. His administration said on Wednesday it was deploying law enforcement officers to protect some monuments from vandalism over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Proponents of removing Confederate statues from their public perches say they wrongly honor a racist legacy.

The Boston Art Commission heard hours of public testimony ahead of Tuesday’s vote on the fate of the “Emancipation” statue.

“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 groups of people, not only in Boston but across the entire United States,” Boston Art Commission Vice Chair Ekua Holmes said.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

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