Protesters did not tear down the ‘Emancipation Monument’ during a protest held Tuesday in Lincoln Park. But they vowed they would return Thursday, June 25 at 7 p.m. to do so.
UPDATE (4 p.m. June 24): Organizers announced Wednesday afternoon via Instagram that after community feedback and legal considerations an event has instead been scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, June 26, taking the place of Thursday’s plans.
“This statue right here embodies the white supremacy and the disempowerment of black people that is forced upon us by white people. That is why we are tearing this statue down,” said 20-year-old organizer Glenn Foster, founder of The Freedom Neighborhood, which organized the protest.
Police in riot gear as well as bicycle police were seen in the park but remained standing near US Park Police and DC Metropolitan Police Department vehicles during the peaceful protest.
The statue has been the site of elevated discussion recently, with many District residents calling for its removal, saying the statue and in particular, the representation of the black man as kneeling, demeans black people. Candidate for At-Large Council Marcus Goodwin recently started a petition for its removal which has amassed more than 5,000 signatures.
According to the National Park Service (NPS), charged with maintaining the park, the monument was entirely paid for by former slaves as a way of paying homage to Lincoln after he was assassinated in 1865. However, the was controlled by the white-run post-war relief agency, the Western Sanitary Commission of St. Louis. While attending the 1876 dedication ceremony, Frederick Douglass was reported to have said that the statue “showed the Negro on his knee when a more manly attitude would have been indicative of freedom.”
On Tuesday, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-D) announced that she would introduce legislation to move the statue to a museum. “The designers of the Emancipation Statue in Lincoln Park in DC didn’t take into account the views of African Americans,” Norton wrote in a tweet. “It shows.”
The designers of the Emancipation Statue in Lincoln Park in DC didn’t take into account the views of African Americans. It shows. Blacks too fought to end enslavement. That’s why I’m introducing a bill to move this statue to a museum. pic.twitter.com/A0MOnISH1N
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) June 23, 2020
Foster said that the organization was not going to wait for government to remove the statue, arguing that there have been calls to remove the statue since at least 2017. Foster said the organization wants to replace it with a sculpture of a District abolitionist leader created by a local black artist.
He said that the first event was intended to get the message out and galvanize people to get energetic about the cause, building up to the moment the group attempts to bring it down.
The Freedom Neighborhood was founded only days before the Lincoln Park protest. “Revolutions start on a whim,” Foster said. “Someone just wakes up and says, ‘hey, I want to change the world. And that was us.” Foster said the group wanted to have an organized approach with clear leadership that would help galvanize people.
There was dissent at the event. Kiana McNeil was walking through the park with her grandchildren when she stopped to engage in dialogue with Foster as he spoke. She said that she is frustrated by the statue and does not like the way the black man was represented but wanted the statue removed by peaceful means. “I know we might not like the steps that we’ve got to take, but we’ve got to take them.”
A white woman tried to speak at the beginning of the event, noting that educational events were held near the memorial on Emancipation Day. She was shouted down by the crowd. When she noted that she lived in the neighborhood, local activist and Serve Your City DC Founder Maurice Cook said, “so do I.” Cook said the woman then asked for his address.
Foster noted that the statue and park are located in the middle of a relatively white, relatively affluent neighborhood in the District. He said that the kinds of conversations that are happening now are uncomfortable, but also necessary.
“In order for us to all be free, we all have to get uncomfortable first. In order for us to all be free, we have to have the hard conversations that might put us in places that will oppress other individuals,” he said.
“So, if you’re a rich white person, and you see this or you’re reading this: I want you to feel that you can still get uncomfortable to get justice. That you can still be out here, and know that you might be contributing to the oppression of black people, but you deny that you’re going to let it continue on any longer. That’s the message I want to send to everyone.”