Black Bostonians Fought For Freedom From Slavery. Where Are The Statues That Tell Their Stories?Roundup
tags: slavery, memorials, public history
Kevin M. Levin is a historian and educator based in Boston. He is the author of numerous books and articles about the Civil War era, including Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth.
It was just a matter of time before the monument debate that has swept across the country, since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, arrived in Boston.
Last week, Dorchester native Tory Bullock posted a video on his Facebook page calling for the removal of the Emancipation Memorial or Freedman’s Memorial on Park Square. The memorial — a copy of the original designed by Thomas Ball, dedicated in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1876 and paid for by formerly enslaved people — depicts Abraham Lincoln standing over a kneeling slave beckoning him to rise to claim his freedom. Bullock has already caught the attention of Mayor Marty Walsh, who is open to relocating the memorial.
In the video, Bullock expresses frustration with the “Black dude on his knees” — a popular motif within abolitionist circles before the Civil War. Bullock asks, “Does that make you feel powerful? Does that make you feel respected? Does that make you feel good?”
He is not the first African American to express such concern with the depiction of the Black man in this memorial or the narrative of emancipation that it represents.
Abolitionist Frederick Douglass served as the keynote speaker at the D.C. dedication. In front of thousands of Black residents and much of the federal government, including President Ulysses S. Grant, Douglass declared, “my white fellow-citizens…you are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his stepchildren; children by adoption, children by force of circumstances and necessity.” Douglass fought too hard and for too long to fall in line with the image of Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator.”
Although Douglass never referenced the enslaved man in his speech, modeled after Archer Alexander, he is reported to have objected privately by suggesting, “it showed the negro on his knee when a more manly attitude would have been indicative of freedom.”
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