The controversial Emancipation Group Lincoln statue no longer sits in public downtown, though the Boston Art Commission said it will end up in a new home.
A flatbed truck trundled out of Lincoln Park on Tuesday morning, bearing the statue of former President Abraham Lincoln standing with his hand out over a kneeling shackled slave after the Boston Art Commission voted in June to remove the statue.
Tory Bullock, the local artist who led the push, said he’s “very proud” of Boston for taking away the statue, which opponents for years have felt was belittling to Black people.
“At the top of my petition, I described being a kid and I would always ask myself, ‘If he’s free, why is he still on his knees?’ After this, no kid will ever have to ask that again,” Bullock said.
Art Commission Chair Mark Pasnik said there will be a public process to determine what will replace the stature, which was just off of Park Plaza. The plan is to put the statue, which is a recast of one by Thomas Ball in Washington, D.C., paid for by money scraped together by Black former slaves newly freed by Lincoln.
“Our hope is to find a new home where it can be better interpreted,” Pasnik said. “It’s a dynamic story over history and that’s the kind of story that could be better interpreted than as a public monument in a public park.”
The Pasnik said the “overwhelming” majority of the people who showed up for the virtual hearings wanted the statue removed, but many said they wanted it put somewhere new, as the commission is doing. Still others, he said, did not want to see the statue moved.
And it wasn’t just along racial lines. Former state Rep. Byron Rushing, a Black man who represented the Back Bay for decades, told his neighborhood paper, The Boston Sun, over the summer that he understands it’s controversial, but that the story behind the sculpture should win out.
“Tell the story of the controversy. It doesn’t matter what it looks like,” Rushing told the paper. “I’d keep it up with the understanding that African Americans who had been freed only a few years before were able to raise $16,000. What do you do with that part of the story? Should that be thrown away? No. I don’t think that can be told when it is in any other place. It would be a disgrace to put it in storage.”
Amid the protests that flourished in June and July over racial issues, the art commission voted to take this statue down, and, after a parallel set of hearings, not put the North End’s Christopher Columbus statue back up after it was decapitated. That statue will now live in the Knights of Columbus building in that neighborhood.
Critics of these types of changes accuse advocates of erasing history at the whims of the mob. Pasnik pushed back on that characterization, saying, “That’s absolutely not true — we’re relocating a mistelling of history.”
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