The use of art and sculpture to commemorate a historical act can always be fraught with danger. It’s not the fault of the Bronze, it is one of the best materials an artist can use, for example, take a look at a Wildlife Sculpture from https://www.gillparker.com/ to see some beautiful examples, but the subject matter it is molded into can be divisive. One such example is the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park, Washington DC, capital of the United States of America. It was built to celebrate the achievement of the freeing of the Slaves following the American Civil War. One of the primary reasons for the war was the Southern states refused to give up the use of African Slaves on plantations and in their homes. Following the victory of the Northern states, the slaves were granted freedom and slavery was abolished in the USA. The architect of this was President Abraham Lincoln or the Great Emancipator as he was known. The statue was built shortly after his assassination in 1865 being finished and in place by 1876.
On the face of it, the statue makes sense. It was a monumental change in American History at a time when the whole country was experiencing them. Lincoln had steered the North and the Union through its darkest days whilst also rebuilding and modernizing the country and economy. It was his diplomatic skill that made sure the British did not become involved on the side of the South as it was suggested some in the British Government would have liked to recognize and join the South. Lincoln also quietly worked in emancipation as being a Civil war goal for the North on the back of the famous Gettysburg address where he spoke of democracy and equality that few listening at the time thought would include Afro-Americans. His actions of orders to protect escaped slaves, the famous thirteenth amendment outlawing slavery and his insistence to states bordering the south to outlaw slavery prior to the amendment have seen him called the Great Emancipator.
Whilst Lincoln’s inclusion is not in doubt the style of the statue is questionable to our modern eyes. It features an upright Lincoln holding the amendment in his right hand with an outstretched left. At his feet crouched down is a Slave with no shirt and shackled. His right hand is clenched in a fist. The suggestion is that the nice white man is saying “go be free”, a term known as white savior complex, out of the kindness of his heart rather than the moral justification. The statue was famously paid for by African-American Slave freed by the war and wanting to honor Lincoln after his assignation. They soon found that despite their freedom they were still as the figure in the statue, supplicant for many decades to come.