Emancipation statue at Lincoln Park
Freedmans Monument in Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park on Massachusetts Ave NE
Sculptor: Thomas Ball
In Lincoln Park where we have the earliest statue honoring him, known as the "Freedman's Monument" by Thomas Ball of Munich, Germany
The idea and first donation for this monument was by Charlotte Scott a freed slave from Virginia, who was residing in Ohio. Having heard of Lincoln's assignation, she told her employer "colored people had lost their best friend on earth". She told her employer that she wanted to honor Lincoln with a memorial and to donate the first money for it. Along with the first $5 Ms. Scott had earned as a free woman, the employer forwarded her request on to the Western Sanitary Commission in St. Louis where the suggestion was taken up enthusiastically. The commission then offered Thomas Ball the work for the $18,000, which had taken two years to collect, all from freed slaves. The slave statue was modeled after Archer Alexander, who is said to have been the last man captured under the Fugitive Slave Act.
While Ball finished the statue, the location was picked.
This city park, part of Pierre C. L'Enfant's original plan, was renamed Lincoln Square in 1867 by an Act of Congress as an early memorial to President Abraham Lincoln
The base and pedestal for the statue cost $3000 which Congress appropriated.
The statute was dedicated on April 14, 1876. (Note the date, the same night as Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theatre 11 years earlier...he died on April 15). This was the first time since the assassination night that April 14 fell on Good Friday. A parade of 50,000 began the day, with the dedication speech to be delivered by Frederick Douglas at the unveiling.
With President Grant, many Congressmen, and the usual diplomats in attendance, Douglass began with a great deal of blunt honesty as opposed to the usual political rhetoric used during events like this ...looking out over the crowd he said:
"He was the white man's president, with the white man's prejudices and he had been ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the humanity of the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people. Lincoln was neither our man or our model". Addressing the whites in the audience he continued, "You are the children of Abraham Lincoln, we are at best his step children; children by adoption; children by force of circumstances and necessity". He concluded with, "even if Lincoln was motivated by political expedience by signing the Emancipation Proclamation, he is our liberator"
Writers note: The Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves held in the Confederate states only, since the Confederacy had renounced their ties to the union, its signing by Lincoln meant nothing.
Upsetting to many blacks in the audience was the servile position of the slave in relation to the standing Lincoln. Many felt as though the sculptures statue reflected the "newly freed slave had no real appreciation of his new status, but merely a person who has escaped punishment and was still a slave.". When asked, Thomas Ball said his intent was to show Lincoln extending his hand over a newly freed slave, not as it was being interpreted.
As with all things in Washington, there is still more regarding this statue beyond the things already mentioned,
--Lincoln is shown standing with his left hand outstretched and his right hand holding an unrolled copy of the Emancipation Proclamation resting on a podium
--The podium has a bundle of rods (top to bottom) on each corner, thirteen stars encircling the base (representing the 13 original colonies), 36 stars around the top of the podium (number of states in the Union at Lincoln's assignation) along one edge of the podium is a bas-relief of George Washington which represents the Union
Writer’s note: The Lincoln Memorial on the Mall was built many years later, but note the same symbolism on both
--At Lincoln's feet, a muscular former slave, with his wrist shackles newly broken, and behind the newly freed slave are shackles, a whip, a whipping post--all symbols of his "former" status. Entwining the post behind the kneeling slave is a rose vine, symbolizing that these trappings of slavery are a thing of the past.
---The bronze sculpture itself is 12' tall and rests on a 12' high granite pedestal with two plaques. The pedestal has the word 'emancipation' on the base. The plaque on the east side contains words from the Emancipation Proclamation while the plaque on the west side tells the story of how the monument
came to be.
Until the completion of the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall, this sculpture was the single most important memorial to Abraham Lincoln in the city and was the site of many celebrations, protests etc.
---It is the first statue depicting a noted African American in a Washington public park.