CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - It made headlines this week. A statue of President Abraham Lincoln standing over a newly freed slave was removed in downtown Boston and put into storage for now.
19 News did some digging, and we found a similar monument exists here in Cleveland.
There is a seven-foot-high, ten-foot-wide cast bronze panel of President Abraham Lincoln in a similar pose in the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on Public Square.
The statue in Boston was removed after a social media influencer started a petition online calling it demeaning and racist, prompting the Boston Art Commission to unanimously vote to remove it, according to CBS News.
“I’m here to provide a silent eulogy that’s been here for 141 years,” Tory Bullock of Boston told CBS. “I am proud, I am Black, I am young and this image has been doing a lot of disservice to African-Americans in Boston and now it’s stopped.”
At this point, no one has officially called for the removal of the cast bronze artwork here in Cleveland, but the Cleveland statue shares several thematic elements with the statue that Bullock and his supporters objected to in Boston.
In Cleveland’s version, Abraham Lincoln is the central figure. He holds up a set of shackles in his right hand that symbolize the Emancipation Proclamation, according to the monument’s art catalog. A former slave kneels at his feet. In his left hand, Lincoln holds a gun and cartridge case, symbolizing the government’s requirement to employ the ex-slave as a soldier.
Some say the piece sends complicated messages about race and equality in America that need to be discussed.
“What I see in it right off is one person who is above and high and has the power and the strength and the one below doesn’t have that,” said Reverend D. Anthony Everett of the University Circle United Methodist Church.
Reverend Everett said looking at the piece more closely he believes the artist wanted to represent someone being freed from slavery by Abraham Lincoln, an emancipation Everett said was never fully realized.
“He’s holding these chains that were supposed to have freed a slave, and then he’s given them a gun basically saying that now that you are free you have to fight for the North in the Civil War,” said Everett, who has previously worked to have confederate monuments removed in Lexington, Kentucky.
The artwork displayed is problematic, Everett said, because it infers that all Black people were freed by Lincoln the moment he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
In reality, the struggle for racial equality for Blacks has been lengthy. At the time Cleveland’s statue was completed in 1892, Jim Crow laws across the South were keeping Black men from voting. Black women wouldn’t be able to vote until 1920.
In order to move forward as a country, Everett said, it’s important to discuss history and public works of art like these statues honestly.
A call was made to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Museum. The facility itself is currently closed due to COVID-19.