Three simultaneous events planned for Friday evening at the base of the Emancipation Monument in Lincoln Park led to raised voices and heated arguments, though the monument remained untouched.
A panel-style discussion, a rally and a community history rally were all planned for 6 p.m. Friday June 26. The evening began with a discussion on art, history, race and representation, but was curtailed as emotions and voices became heated as conflict arose between youth and their elders and between those who want the statue to remain, those who want it removed through legal means, and those calling to pull it down.
As invited moderator Andrew Lightman asked the crowd for questions, The Freedom Neighborhood Founder spoke, asserting ownership over the event, placing the immediate desire of youth to take the statue down versus the desire of older people. “The only reason we are out here is because young people had the courage, the confidence, the balls to be out here,” said Glenn Foster.
Foster said that older people had their chance to talk about the statue, as well as to pass legislation to remove it. “You had your chance. And what happened? It’s still up here,” he said.
“Are you done having conversation?” he asked, to roars from the crowd. “So what are we going to do? We are going to tear that mother*cker down. And if you don’t like it, you don’t like it.”
Elevated Discussion, Toppled Statues
The statue has recently been the site of elevated discussion, 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. On Tuesday, June 23, The Freedom Neighborhood Founder said that activist would tear the statue down at a rally hosted at the monument.
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.”
Protesters recently toppled a statue of Confederate general Albert Pike in Judiciary Square and attempted to pull down a monument of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square. At a June 23rd protest, Foster called for the statue’s removal and vowed to return Thursday evening to take it down.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the Army had activated around 400 unarmed members of the DC National Guard to “prevent any defacing or destruction” of monuments. Fencing was erected June 25 around both the Emancipation Monument and a statue of Mary McLeod Bethune that it faces.
Multiple views were represented Friday evening. Some speakers, including candidate for At-Large Councilmember Marcus Goodwin advocated for the legal removal of the statue, arguing that it should be placed in a museum and replaced with a statue of an African-American woman.
Another speaker disagreed. “Black people were considered as commerce. This is a symbol of commerce. It doesn’t even belong in a museum,” said Melani Douglass, Director of Public Programs at National Museum of Women in the Arts. “It should maybe be in the commerce department.”
Citing Lincoln’s desire to ‘repatriate’ black Americans in Africa and noting that a provision for slavery still exists in the 13th Amendment, she argued that people should be upset about the misinformation they learned in school. “What we have to understand is that every single thing you know is rooted in an educational system that was to misinform you so that you would be okay with this,” she said.
An older black man who identified himself as Don Foley and carried a sign advertising dcblacktours.com said he would speak in defense of the statue. “A lot of people are out here talking about tearing something down that they don’t even know the history of,” he said. “To all the people who live in the community that are so upset, why didn’t you clean the statue up? Why haven’t you cleaned up around it?”
Frederick Douglass reenactor Nathan Richardson recited parts of the speech made by Douglass at the 1876 dedication of the statue. He said that formerly enslaved people paid for the statue but had no input on the design. A woman reenacting former slave Charlotte Scott, who contributed the first 5 dollars she earned as a free woman to the effort, also struggled to offer remarks to the crowd.
Despite the arguments, the protest remained peaceful, with police sparsely located throughout the park, remaining in the background. Late in the evening, Foley was seen beside right-wing political activist Jack Posobiec as protesters pushed him out of the park after Posobiec filmed Foster’s remarks for a live Twitter broadcast. On the periphery of the event, a blue Ford pick-up truck screeched around the north edge of the park. Witnesses said that the truck turned onto Tennesee and backed into a driveway. Reports said the driver abandoned the vehicle and fled. A small drone flying over the crowd caused some consternation until it was identified as the property of a protester.
In an Instagram post, The Freedom Neighborhood called the event a success despite the fact that the statue remained standing. “We caused disruption, got the attention of our government, and most importantly started a movement that is getting bigger by the day,” the post read. “We are nowhere near done, but just beginning.”