On Feb 18, 2021, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-D) reintroduced legislation to remove the Emancipation Statue from Lincoln Park, a federal park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The bill cites the statues problematic depiction of the fight to achieve emancipation. The legislation calls for the statue to be placed in a museum with an explanation of origin and meaning. ~Ed
A few years ago I almost lost my life in Charlottesville. James Alex Fields Jr., a white man willing to protect a statue “by any means necessary,” drove his car through a crowd of protesters including myself. In doing so, he murdered Heather Heyer, a young white woman from Charlottesville. On bad nights, I hear the impact of metal and bone, the smell of rubber and blood, complete chaos over the symbolism of white supremacy and the need to protect it.
This controversy around the Emancipation statue that represents the “benevolence” of a white man “granting freedom” to a Black man is only a temporary issue. The same spirit that summoned so many of us to Charlottesville that terrible weekend called Harriet Tubman and many others to take their freedom in the famous words of Malcom X, “by any means necessary.” No man-made law can permanently stifle the desire for freedom nor dull the will to take what can’t be given.
Some argue that the fact that Black people financed the statue should be respected and it be allowed to remain. This position ignores the fact that these people had with no control over what actually was purchased.
The Black benefactors of the statue had no influence on the design. This fact is the ultimate manifestation of white supremacy.
That’s correct, we are supposed to respect that Black people had the wherewithal to buy a house sight unseen. A house with a permanent Black lawn jockey affixed to the property.
All of us in this country are taught to exalt and normalize white idolatry. I’ve seen up close and personal the willingness of some to commit murder to protect it. I wonder what I would do to protect a statue of a naked white man on his knees receiving a pat on his head as if a child at the boot of a Black Man? It doesn’t exist. Rather, we have hundreds of cheap statues celebrating the Lost Cause installed in prominent public squares across this country. These are the only examples that I know of in which the losers were allowed to enshrine their domination of the future.
I’m certain this statue and all of the statues are a temporary issue. Black elders in the Movement, not susceptible to this charity/benevolence trope of gracious Negroes receiving the approval of freedom and humanity endowed by Lincoln, have guided me and many others. This was not how Black people acquired our freedom. Rather, thousands of Black Civil War Veterans earned it through their heroism on the battlefield. Many others through their everyday struggle to endure to fight another day so their children could bask in freedom.
The young people protesting in Charlottesville a few years ago and in cities across the nation last summer know freedom from oppression is not granted, Rather, it must be taken “by any means necessary” in the battlefield of America’s public squares.
This piece was published in print together with an opposing view. You can read that piece here.
Maurice Cook is the founder of Serve Your City and proud resident of Capitol Hill. He can be found at [email protected].