Boston officials have voted to remove “The Emancipation Group” statue depicting Abraham Lincoln and an enslaved Black man from a city square, saying its “reductive representation” of the slave made it unfit for public art.
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 honouring 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, D.C. 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 labours.”
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 have organized to topple them.
The protests have revived a fierce national debate about the role of such statues in the public sphere. Among the opponents to removing statues is President Donald Trump, who has called the effort an erasure of history and culture. Proponents of removing Confederate statues from their public perches say they wrongly honour 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.
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