Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., has reintroduced legislation to remove a statue commemorating emancipation, arguing that 19th-century memorial doesn’t do enough to honor slaves’ contribution to their own freedom.
Dedicated in 1876, the statue shows former President Lincoln, who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, with his hand outstretched over a shackled slave who is kneeling beside him. It was erected after a freed slave, Charlotte Scott, started a fundraising campaign that collected funds from freed slaves.
“Although formerly enslaved Americans paid for this statue, the design and sculpting process was done without their input or participation in any way, and it shows,” Holmes Norton said in a press release last week.
“The statue fails to note how enslaved African Americans pressed for their own emancipation. Understandably, they were only recently liberated from slavery and were grateful for any recognition of their freedom. However, in his keynote address at the unveiling of the statue, Frederick Douglass pointedly did not praise the statue, and, indeed, in private remarks, went as far as to say, ‘it showed the negro on his knee when a more manly attitude would have been indicative of freedom.’”
The congresswoman introduced the legislation last year amid a wave of racially charged demonstrations that sometimes included toppling monuments. A copy of the statue was removed from Boston last year.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, the famed abolitionist Fredrick Douglass sought to place another monument in addition to the one with Lincoln and the kneeling slave.
He was reportedly uncomfortable with the statue’s depiction. During his address dedicating the statue, he stated that Lincoln “was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men.”
In a letter to the editor of the National Republican newspaper, Douglass said: “The mere act of breaking the negro’s chains was the act of Abraham Lincoln, and it is beautifully expressed in this monument. But the act by which the negro was made a citizen of the United States and invested with the elective franchise was pre-eminently the act of President U.S. Grant, and this is nowhere seen in the Lincoln monument.”
Marcia Cole, who portrays Scott in Female Re-enactors of Distinction, reportedly opposed the statues’ removal last year.
“What he’s [freed slave] symbolizing to me and others is that he’s indicating his previous position of servitude, but he’s rising out of that,” Cole said, according to WUSA9.
“I would hate to see this amended or torn down because Ms. Charlotte worked real hard to see this put up there.”