Two very different events took place Friday, July 3 in Lincoln Park, one a teach-in hosted by a Frederick Douglass reenactor and historians, another a musical event to draw attention to the racial representation of the monument. They took place in different parts of the park, though both were centered on the Emancipation Monument.
In the center of a circle of listeners, Frederick Douglass reenactor Nathan Richardson recited excerpts from Douglass’s address, ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’, against the strains of GoGo music coming from the west end of the park, where Moechella producers put on an event to draw attention to what they called a ‘racist statue’.
The 1852 speech, which Douglass originally gave at a July 5 celebration of the Declaration of Independence in Rochester, New York, draws attention to the hypocrisy between the American ideal of freedom as it co-exists with the institution of slavery.
“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us,” he said.
Richardson also spoke with some of the young people attending the Moechella event, many of whom argued that the depiction of the Black man on the statue is racist, and that the monument needs to be removed. “Say that street there was full of Confederate flags,” he said to a young listener, gesturing to 12th Street NE, “and you stripped all the flags away. The next day, they would be right back.”
“Yes,” replied the young person.
“So you’re not doing anything substantial, taking down the flags or taking down the monument,” said Richardson as Douglass. “You have to take down the root. The shadow and the substance have to go down together, or you’re not really doing anything.”
‘More Respect, More Respect’
“He’s wrong,” said Glen Yonkers, Jr., when asked about Richardson’s comments.
Glenn Jonkers, Jr. and his family are DC residents. He and his wife, Stacey, said they have been protesting as a family since the death of George Floyd, teaching their children about black history and celebrating freedom on Juneteenth and on the Fourth of July, and came to the Moechella event with their sons, Aiden and Glen, as well as their niece and nephew Ahmad and Simone Jones.
The family said that representation matters. 12-year-old Glen Yonkers III said the imagery used in the statue tells the wrong story, presenting the Black man as a slave and Lincoln as a savior. “He’s holding on to a slave, and he’s the one who freed us, so it doesn’t really represent Abraham Lincoln and what he did for us,” he said. The 12 year-old said the statue is irrelevant to what’s going on right now and needs to be taken down.
His younger brother agrees. “In my eyes it does kind of look like the black man is begging, because he is on his knees,” said 8-year-old Aiden. “So I just want it to be replaced.”
Their father said the statue should represent the former slave as an equal. “Show him [Alexander] on his feet, like a red-blooded American, as Abe Lincoln was. Man-to-man, eye-to-eye,” said Glen Yonkers, Jr. “You could show them having a discussion, or something. Not him on his knees, begging for something.”
12-year-old Ahmad and his sister, Simone, say the statue doesn’t need to be removed but should be rearranged. “No black person should be on their knees, begging for anything,” Ahmed said.
“Redo it, to have a better meaning of what slaves really did, of black people in general,” said Simone, 15. “Just [show] more respect, more respect.”
‘We’re Here About This Racist Statue’
Hundreds of people, most of them young and black, gathered on the west side of the park on the lawn behind the Emancipation Monument for a Moechella event. Just before 6 p.m. producers Long Live GoGo and Justin ‘Yaddiya’ Johnson pulled up, parking a flat bed truck with full amplification system on 11th Street SE at the end of the path leading to the monument.
Speaking before the Critical Condition Band performed from the truck, Johnson said that he wanted to bring more attention to the Emancipation Monument.
“We’re here about this racist *ss statue,” said Johnson. “That statue is so demeaning to our culture, man, I had to bring you all up here so y’all can feast your eyes on it so you can go home and let your friends and family know what’s going on.”
Johnson said that he wanted to bring more ‘black faces’ to the park to see the statue, which he said should be turned towards Congress to represent freedom. The statue was turned to face the monument to Mary McLeod Bethune when it was dedicated in 1973. Johnson also called for the Emancipation Monument to be modified so that the image of Arthur Alexander, the former slave represented on the monument, is standing beside Lincoln as his equal.
Johnson said that there could be more regular Moechella events at Lincoln Park. “If that statue is not rectified, we might have to have many more block parties in the middle of your neighborhood,” said Johnson. “I know you’re not going to like it, because we come out of nowhere.”