Boston’s Emancipation Memorial

By Dorris Keeven-Franke

It is said “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” Just as our country is torn today with images that will hopefully be considered unbearable in 150 years, the statue of President Abraham Lincoln in Boston’s Park Square is a history lesson that shouldn’t be forgotten either. Unfortunately, its’ true story is not what some people, who feel that the statue represents submissiveness, is all about. The statue, identical to one in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C., shares the story of America’s emancipator President Abraham Lincoln, and an American hero, Archer Alexander.

On February 28, 1863, a fifty-seven-year-old enslaved man born in Virginia and taken to Missouri when he was 23, overheard his owner Richard Pitman plotting to destroy the nearby railroad bridge. A vital link for the Union Army, Archer risked his life to run 5 miles in the dark of night to warn the troops stationed at the bridge. With a slave patrol in hot pursuit wanting to lynch him, he fled to St. Louis and was taken in by William Greenleaf Eliot. Eliot was a Unitarian minister who was born near Boston, and founder of Washington University, who was also head of the Western Sanitary Commission, and a friend of Lincoln’s. In 1865, when Lincoln was assassinated, a slave named Charlotte Rucker, wanted to see a memorial to “the best friend the colored people ever had.” And Eliot wanted to see Archer Alexander portray the slave breaking his own chains and rising before Lincoln.

William Greenleaf Eliot. Photograph by unknown, no date Missouri History Museum Photograph and Print Collection. Portraits n38667

In 1876, on the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, President U.S. Grant and Frederick Douglass dedicated Washington, D.C.’s Emancipation Memorial, which was totally funded by the former enslaved of America, with its’ fundraising coordinated through the Western Sanitary Commission. Boston’s copy was placed there as a tribute as well to Eliot, as the people of Boston were the nation’s largest contributors to the Western Sanitary Commission. That is what people of America saw when they visited your statue in the 1870s.

Left: Archer Alexander 1806-1880. Right: His descendant Muhammad Ali 1942-2016. Archer Alexander is the Great-great-great grandfather of Muhammed Ali.

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