In less than two weeks, more than 12,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the removal of “Freedmen’s Memorial Monument” or “Emancipation Group” in Boston’s Park Square. And the issue has attracted national press coverage. Now, the Boston Art Commission has scheduled a virtual public meetings on June 30 to consider the future of the monument. Update, June 24: The commission has added a second, earlier meeting on June 25.
“We went from a video to a petition to calls to being in the room where it happens,” Boston artist Tory Bullock, who launched the petition on June 11, said in a Facebook video this evening. “…Thank you for all the love. Thank you for all the hate. Because you all are the people who gave this the momentum needed to get in front of the desks and eyeballs that it’s currently in front of.”
The Boston Art Commission’s website says the Zoom “meeting is designed to gather public testimony to shape the Commission’s future deliberations about the work. The BAC expects to vote at a follow-up public meeting after considering the written and verbal testimony received.”
“When I started this I had a very clear goal but I did not have a path,” Bullock said in today’s video. “And the fact that so many people and so many mountains have kind of shifted in such a short amount of time in a town that historically takes a really long time to get things done, thank you guys for kind of expediting this to even get our public thoughts on this.”
The statue, which has been in Park Square since 1879, is a copy of an 1876 Washington, D.C., monument funded entirely by African Americans to honor the assassinated President Abraham Lincoln and celebrate Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War, which freed Black Americans from slavery. (Read much more about the history here.) Objections to removing the statue have generally been that to remove the statue would dishonor the intentions of these Black ancestors.
But there also has long been criticism of the monument’s symbolism, of the way Lincoln is portrayed standing in a suit waving a hand over a crouching Black man, clad only in a loincloth.
“That image of a Black dude on his knees, does that make you feel powerful? Does that make you feel respected? Does that make you feel good?” Bullock said in a video launching the petition. “Given my experience, it’s how a lot of White people actually view Black people.”
As for calls to just pull the monument down, Bullock said in today’s video, “We’re trying to do this civicly.”
“Boston is the furthest along in any legitimate process to actually get these things removed,” Bullock said. “…Let’s be the people that shows the world how to get rid of these statues.”
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has signaled that he’s open to removing the statue or perhaps recommissioning the statue so that it better recognizes equality. Bullock writes me that “I’ve heard nothing directly from the mayor or the Arts Commission on this outside of a member tagging me in a status on facebook once. No word from Walsh other than what he has already said about being in favor, but no specifics of anything.”
“Now it’s time to make YOUR VOICE HEARD! They will be taking live and written testimonials about the piece,” Bullock wrote on Facebook today. “I’m going to need the full squad on this one. This memorial has been up for more than 100 years and now is the time we all stand up…this is our chance to finally respectfully put this image away while NEVER forgetting its history. If this image of a man about to get up is of one of our most powerful black history figures, why not give him a stance that reflects that power?”
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