The Boston Art Commission unanimously voted to take down a contentious emancipation statue depicting former president Abraham Lincoln with a freed Black man kneeling before him.
The statue, which was installed in 1879 and has been a subject of controversy for the way the freed Black man is portrayed, was removed from the city’s Park Square on Tuesday morning, NBC Boston reported. Named “The Emancipation Group”, the statue was a replica of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C.
City officials, however, voted in favor of taking it down following a petition calling for it to be removed, which garnered almost 13,000 signatures. The creator of the petition, Tory Bullock, told the news outlet he always had issues with the statue since childhood, adding that he usually asked himself, “If he’s free, why is he still on his knees?”
Bullock added: “It brings a feeling of… kind of validation. A feeling of… if we see something that we don’t agree with… we can stand up and say something and a lot of people may listen and may force the process that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”
According to the Arts and Culture website, the statue was donated to the city by Moses Kimball, a politician and the founder of the Boston Museum. They also explained that the freed Black man kneeling before Lincoln is based on a photo of Archer Alexander, a formerly enslaved man who “helped the Union Army before seeking freedom for himself and his family.”
“While he was recaptured several times under the Fugitive Slave Act, Alexander managed to escape and evade his abductors until the passage of the 13th Amendment,” they explained.
The statue has since been moved to a storage facility pending a decision on where to situate it next, the office of Mayor Marty Walsh said, CNN reported. “As expressed by so many during the public process this year, we fully agree that the statue should be relocated to a new publicly accessible location where its history and context can be better explained,” a spokeswoman for the mayor told the news outlet. “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.”
In a statement, Mayor Walsh also said it was prudent they heeded the calls for its removal following the outcry from both the city’s residents as well as visitors.
“As we continue our work to make Boston a more equitable and just city, it’s important that we look at the stories being told by the public art in all of our neighborhoods,” Walsh said. “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. I fully support the Boston Art Commission’s decision for removal and thank them for their work.”