In January, of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation “there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except in punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted; and all persons held to service or labor as slaves are hereby declared free.” Under Lincoln’s direction, hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers gave their lives to make that statement permanent. How can we forget that? Today we say the same thing when we say Black Lives Matter yet we seek to destroy those statues and images that portray those very first steps taken. How can we know how far we have come, or judge how far we have to go, if we don’t have reminders of these facts, staring us in the face as we pass by them every day? If we destroy these monuments, how can we help our children understand our enslaved ancestors lives, or what our ancestors who fought for their emancipation sacrifices were for? The Union won, and our Country was preserved. Let our Country not be torn apart once again. Emancipation means free, not equal. That is our battle that continues today. Please don’t let us confuse the two issues in our haste. We should not eradicate those battle scars that occurred in 1865, but treasure them, as they are there to serve to remind all of us, how far we have come since then, and how far we have yet to go. Let us stop and listen to their story.
President Lincoln was assassinated because he put an end to slavery. When the formerly enslaved Charlotte Scott heard the news of President Lincoln’s death, she took the first five dollars in money she had earned as a free woman, and gave them to her former master Mr. William P. Rucker a Union refugee from Virginia, who lived in Marietta Ohio then. She asked him “to make a monument to Massa Lincoln, the best friend the colored people ever had”. Rucker would take those funds to Gen. T.H.C. Smith, and he would make sure that they were given to Mr. James Yeatman, of who he asked “Would it not be well to.take up this suggestion and make it known to the freedmen?” And with that it would soon come under the help of the Western Sanitary Commission, with William G. Eliot at the helm. He would share it with many of the benefactors of the Freedmens Bureau, active during the Civil War.
By 1866, former U.S. Colored Troops, members of the Freedmans Bureau and others formerly enslaved, had helped raise $12,150, and then to $16,242. (Today that would be equal to over $130,000). But times were changing and their movement was being checked, this was Reconstruction. A photograph had been provided to Thomas Ball a sculptor from Boston Massachusetts who had studied abroad and moved his studio to Italy. He and Eliot were friends and in 1870, they would meet in Ball’s studio. Eliot would explain how things were proceeding for the monument in the U.S., and about the funds raised by the Western Sanitary Commission and that the funds were coming from the formerly enslaved for this, and it was to be their monument. Ball agreed that the amount of funds already collected were sufficient to cast it at the Royal Foundry in Munich. The Western Sanitary Commission also asked Ball to make changes as well. The original plan had called for a passive black man kneeling in a soldier’s cap, before Lincoln. The cap was removed and the slave was to be seen rising, breaking his own chains and taking an active part in gaining his freedom. The slave that is immortalized and represents all of slavery, is none other than that of Archer Alexander, an American hero in his own right.
Today that monument, known as the Emancipation Memorial sits in Washington, D.C. in Lincoln Park. An exact replica also sits in Boston, Massachusetts as a tribute to the people of Boston. See Emancipation Memorial for its history, and the attempts to remove it from the City’s collective memory because there are those who find it offensive as a reminder of a time when a slave was submissive. Take a closer look please, as Archer’s shackles have been broken and he is rising to stand next to Lincoln.
Editorial written by Dorris Keeven-Franke