Freedom

“Now I’m free! I thank the good Lord that he has delivered me from all my troubles, and I’ve lived to see this.” Such were the words of Archer Alexander when he saw the photograph of himself on the Emancipation Monument, which was to be dedicated in 1876 by the great orator Frederick Douglass in Lincoln Park on the 11th Anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Totally paid for by the former enslaved people of America. The first such monument in Washington, D.C. and the first ever to feature Lincoln with the people he saw achieve their freedom. Our treasured right that we all celebrate today!

In 1885, William Greenleaf Eliot, a Unitarian minister and founder of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri  would be the first biographer of Archer Alexander. As a member of the Western Sanitary Commission he would announce  “Soon after Mr. Lincoln’s assassination, Charlotte Scott, an emancipated slave, brought five dollars to her former master, Mr. William P. Rucker, then a Union refugee from Virginia… It was her first earnings as a free woman, and she begged that it might be used “to make a monument to Massa Lincoln, the best friend the colored people ever had…

Mr. Rucker placed it in the hands of General T. H. C. Smith, who forwarded it to Mr. James E. Yeatman, president of the Western Sanitary Commission of St. Louis …The suggestion was cordially accepted, and a circular letter was published inviting all freedmen to send contributions for the purpose to the Commission in St. Louis. In response, liberal sums were received from colored soldiers …which was soon increased from other sources to $16,242… In the capitol grounds at Washington, D.C., there is a bronze group known as Freedom’s Memorial… It represents President Lincoln in the act of emancipating a negro slave, who kneels at his feet to receive the benediction, but whose hand has grasped the chain as if in the act of breaking it, indicating the historical fact that the slaves took active part in their own deliverance…

I have felt as proud of the long-continued friendship and confidence of Archer Alexander as of any one I have known. He was, I believe, the last fugitive slave taken in Missouri under the old laws of slavery. His freedom came directly from the hand of President Lincoln, by provost-marshal authority, and his own hands had helped to break the chains that bound him. His oldest son had given his life to the cause. When I showed to him the photographic picture of the Freedom’s Memorial monument, soon after its inauguration in Washington, and explained to him its meaning, and that he would thus be remembered in connection with Abraham Lincoln, the emancipator of his race, he …exclaimed, … “Now I’se free! I thank the good Lord that he has ‘livered me from all my troubles, and I’se lived to see this.” wrote Eliot in From Slavery to Freedom, Archer Alexander published in Boston in 1885.

Today, this monument and its’ history is in danger of being lost. There are those that cannot see this through the eyes of that time because they have not heard the voices of their ancestors. Help us to recall this point in our nation’s history, to be able to teach our children today, and for future generations what a slave rising in freedom looks like. Please consider signing our Petition to Congress to preserve the Emancipation Monument at https://www.change.org/EmancipationMonumentDC

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

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