December 30, 2020

"The statue by Thomas Ball depicts a Black man, shirtless and on his knees, in front of a clothed and standing Abraham Lincoln."

"In one hand, Lincoln holds a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, while the other is stretched out over the Black man. Ball intended it to look as though the man were rising to freedom, but to many, it looks like he is bowing down or supplicating to Lincoln. Boston artist Tory Bullock, who started the petition, described it this way: 'I’ve been watching this man on his knees since I was a kid. It’s supposed to represent freedom but instead represents us still beneath someone else. I would always ask myself, "If he’s free, why is he still on his knees?"'"

From "Controversial Lincoln statue is removed in Boston, but remains in D.C." (WaP). There are 2 identical statues, the original in Washington and a replica that was in Boston. 

The original statue "was commissioned and paid for by a group of Black Americans, many of whom were formerly enslaved," but they "did not have a say in the design of the statue; that distinction went to an all-White committee and the artist, Ball, who was White." 

Frederick Douglass was present at the unveiling in 1876, and he criticized the statue in writing a few days later: "What I want to see before I die is a monument representing the negro, not couchant on his knees like a four-footed animal, but erect on his feet like a man." 

The question "If he’s free, why is he still on his knees?" is interesting. Whenever stationary art depicts an action, we see a stage of the action. We're in the middle of things. How do you make a statue of a person rising up? If you show him already fully standing, you might lose the expression of the action...

... you don't need to show this figure that close to the ground. And Lincoln looks still and lordly. It is a strange artifact. It's artwork from the past, never the greatest art, but carrying the weight of history, history that includes Frederick Douglass wanting to see a better image of a black man before he died.

***

I looked to see what year Douglass died. It was 1895. I clicked through on the name of his first wife, Anna Murray Douglass:

Anna Murray was... born free, her parents having been manumitted just a month before her birth. A resourceful young woman, by the age of 17 she had established herself as a laundress and housekeeper. Her laundry work took her to the docks, where she met Frederick Douglass, who was then working as a caulker. Murray's freedom made Douglass believe in the possibility of his own. When he decided to escape slavery in 1838, Murray encouraged and helped him by providing Douglass with some sailor's clothing her laundry work gave her access to. She also gave him part of her savings, which she augmented by selling one of her feather beds. 

After Douglass had made his way to Philadelphia and then New York, Murray followed him, bringing enough goods with her to be able to start a household.... She helped support the family financially, working as a laundress and learning to make shoes, as Douglass's income from his speeches was sporadic and the family was struggling. She also took an active role in the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society and later prevailed upon her husband to train their sons as typesetters for his abolitionist newspaper, North Star. After the family moved to Rochester, New York, she established a headquarters for the Underground Railroad from her home, providing food, board and clean linen for fugitive slaves on their way to Canada. 

Murray Douglass received little mention in Douglass's three autobiographies. Henry Louis Gates has written that "Douglass had made his life story a sort of political diorama in which she had no role." 

59 comments:

rhhardin said...

It's like a modern movie. Men are evil, women are good.

rhhardin said...

I felt cheated to learn as a kid that the underground railroad had no trains or track. Some boring bit of history was being headlined under false colors. It was early clickbait.

Big Mike said...

To see how contemporary slaves freed by Lincoln’s victory in the Civil War felt about him just read any account of his visit to Richmond immediately after it fell. IMHO the statue would be better if it had depicted Lincoln helping the black slave to his feet, but efforts to pretend that Lincoln had nothing to do with ending slavery are simply bogus.

Then again, up in Boston didn’t they vandalize the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, honoring the man who led the 54th Massachusetts Regiment to Glory? Was it courageous of Shaw to lead those men, given that the Confederacy had announced that they would kill any white officers leading black troops? Why, so it was. Doesn’t matter to the cowards who skulk in the night to vandalize statues honoring men far braver than they.

Ann Althouse said...

"I felt cheated to learn as a kid that the underground railroad had no trains or track."

Colson Whitehead wrote a novel for you and everyone else who as a kid had the same idea: "The alternate history novel tells the story of Cora and Caesar, two slaves in the southeastern United States during the 19th century, who make a bid for freedom from their Georgia plantations by following the Underground Railroad, which the novel depicts as primarily a rail transport system in addition to a series of safe houses and secret routes."

Shouting Thomas said...

Getting on one’s knees is good for you.

I do it every Sunday at church.

It’s good for black people (and women) too.

No, it doesn’t matter why you get on your knees in supplication, or who you are bowing to.

stevew said...

At least the argument for removing this statue is based on what it is seen to depict, or fails to depict.

Shouting Thomas said...

The black worship thing we’re going thru is incredibly fucking stupid.

It’s so stupid that I feel like I’m in a Monty Python skit that never gets to the punch line.

I keep expecting that everybody will suddenly notice how fucking stupidly we’re behaving and everybody will break down into laughter.

Cue credits.

And then the damned fucking stupid skit just keeps on going!

tds said...

describing the statue as "a black man on his knees before Lincoln" is double blind.

1) It's a black man getting up from sort of a squat
2) it's as if he didn't notice Lincoln was there at all. Not directed at him, not looking at him

I'd say it's a statue of a black man who thinks he's getting up by himself, which might explain at least partly why we have this discussion now.

Kevin said...

Art is of the artist. Artists are of their time.

The opportunity is to create another version to stand beside it.

These critics are incapable or afraid to do so.

Earnest Prole said...

Follow France’s example: “The republic will erase no trace or names of its history, it will forget none of its works, it will tear down none of its statues. We must instead lucidly look together at our history.”

Big Mike said...

It’s so stupid that I feel like I’m in a Monty Python skit that never gets to the punch line.

Lots of Monty Python skits were like that. They’d sort of meander on and then one of the actors would break character, look into the camera and intone “And now for something completely different.”

Unknown said...

The New Criterion ran a detailed and fascinating history of the statue (the Washington version):

https://newcriterion.com/issues/2020/10/of-by-for-the-freedmen

It includes poignant comments from the freed blacks who thought of and paid for the statue, and more passages from Douglass who changed his mind about the statue and came to approve of it.

I highly recommend it.

Francisco D said...

Shouting Thomas said...The black worship thing we’re going thru is incredibly fucking stupid.

There are a lot of guilty and scared White liberals out there. You can see it in TV ads.

They are scared of being called racist, but primary scared that Blacks are starting to flee the Democrat Plantation.

Bruce Hayden said...

Theodore Dalrymple:

Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

Temujin said...

Well...I'm going to go contra to what I'd normally be inclined to do on this one. I am completely appalled by the dismantling of our history via toppling statues, creating a landscape that is grounded in no history at all, as if we're in Year Zero.

But...this statue has always bugged me. It is cringe-inducing. And if I feel that way, I can imagine how others, especially many Black Americans, might feel looking at it. Because it is Abraham Lincoln, our response is 'hands off', this is where we draw the line, this is where we make our stand.

But what if it's just not a very good piece of art? What if it's just a distasteful depiction. What if what it's depicting is not what Lincoln would have stood for? Maybe we'll never know that last one, but to any objective observation, this statue is belittling, and showing the Black man as groveling, with the righteous Lincoln above him, his hand out as if to tell the Black man, "Rise up. Stand up now. I am making you free." I'm sure that's what was meant to portray, but I think it's bad art. Lincoln or not. It's just not a good statue depicting Emancipation. It still looks like one human with power hovering over another.

Marcus Bressler said...

Just replace it with a cross inside a container filled with urine. And to make it timely, make it the urine of a trans-person. They'll love it and we'll soon see a link to a NYTimes story celebrating it.

THEOLDMAN

n.n said...

The problem is not that the man is depicted rising following emancipation, but rather that it was Lincoln who lead the way to his standing from a kneeling position. This is why diversitists demand that people kneel in a morbid shout out to progress. White privilege today. Jew privilege yesterday. Baby privilege before Choice denied them life. Religion (e.g. "ethics") is evolving.

Birkel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

What could be done is to produce a statue depicting Lincoln and a "colored man" not bound by the dehumanizing chains of diversity and redistributive change standing, and a slave rising from a kneeling position. Another statue can depict a baby evolving from conception in a forward-looking proclamation of human rights. A statue under the label of "Forward", perhaps.

n.n said...

The natural stopping point is at the very bottom of the slippery slope.

Progressive (i.e. monotonic) path.

Bruce Hayden said...

You have heard this before - that 1984 was supposed to be a warning, and not a “How To” guide. The United States was based on an idea, with that idea enshrined in our Constitution was our trans generational contract of governance. This stand in the way of a leftist takeover of our country, and is one of the biggest threats to Chinese hegemony. So, it must be destroyed. Part of that trans generational pact is the history that explains and justifies it. And that is being dismantled by the left right in front of us right now. This is part of that. Lincoln was the Great Emancipator. He was a Republican. The Democrats, the party of political correction and leftists, was the party of slavery, slave owners, lynchings, the KKK, etc. They went to war against the rest of the country in order to preserve the institution of slavery. When it comes to slavery, every Democrat in the country should be embarrassed that they support that party. Instead, so many on the left just try to rewrite history so that they are the heroes, and not the villains, who have been oppressing Blacks for upwards of 400 years now. It should never be forgotten that the party that supports removal of these statutes is the one that supported continued enslavement and then discrimination and oppression of Blacks. No surprise that they want that historical reminder of their evil history removed.

I find it interesting that one side of this debate is revisiting and restudying our founding documents, including the justifications for our founding and founding documents, while the other side is trying to erase that history as quickly, and now violently, as they can. They need our history to be erased, because they cannot gain and hold power over the rest of us, if they can’t accomplish that. If you doubt that - reread the Declaration of Independence, that effectively provides a moral justification for armed overthrow of our government if it becomes too despotic, which is exactly what much of the left is seeking right now.


Bruce Hayden said...

“ But what if it's just not a very good piece of art? What if it's just a distasteful depiction. What if what it's depicting is not what Lincoln would have stood for? ”

We know the intent of the statue - to show a former slave rising as a now free man, as a result of what Lincoln did. The weakness here is that it wasn’t done well enough. It does not prevent the message it tries to tell being deliberately misinterpreted by those trying to erase that message. And, yes, deliberately misinterpreted. There is little question about the intent of the statue - it is famous enough that you can, or at least could, just look it up.

Fernandinande said...

The Whappoo capitalized "White": Threat or menace?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

How do you make a statue of a person rising up? If you show him already fully standing, you might lose the expression of the action...

Perhaps instead of Lincoln with his palm down in a stay motion, like you would make to your dog, the statue should have shown him with a palm up and slightly lifted/elevated...in a rise type of motion as seen in revival meetings.

Or...maybe we need big bronze cartoon bubbles with words written on them since many people don't seem to have the ability to use their own imaginations.

Picasso should definitely have cartoon bubbles to help us figure out what the heck he meant by this paintings. Then we won't have to think.

The Mona Lisa. All the speculation of what she is thinking or looking at would be fixed if we just had a cartoon thought bubble. So simple!!!

RichAndSceptical said...

So one artist doesn't like another artist's work and demands it be torn down. Tough business!

exhelodrvr1 said...

The woke crowd has no concept of context

Tommy Duncan said...

If the statue has us earnestly engaged in discussion hasn't it succeeded as art?

Would it be better if there were no discussion?

Should historical context be a part of the examination of a piece of art? Or should all art be evaluated only in today's environment? If so, does history have any value?

Duke Dan said...

How many knees have to be touching the ground for you to be on yours knees (plural). Because I only see one in the statue.

Agree the depiction could convey better. Having Abe stand tall to honor him causes the issue. If he were more at the same eye level to help the other man rise up it could be more compassionate.

SensibleCitizen said...

1. Public art transcends the people or situation portrayed. Love it our hate it, but destroying art (or warehousing art) is disillusionment -- the opposite of enlightenment.

2. As to the the black worship comment: In 2020 we saw private property destroyed and people murdered in the name of a life-long violent criminal whose fate was sealed long before he passed a counterfeit bill. Group narcissism, the feeling that your group is so special and your cause is so right, that it justifies the ruination of others is despicable. Collectively we need to grow the balls to stand up to it.

William said...

Temujin and others point out the cringe aspects of this statue. It celebrates Lincoln more than the slave, but what are we to do when history is politically incorrect?....When Lincoln visited Richmond after it fell, he was met by some slaves who attempted to kiss his boots. He gestured towards them to get off their knees and rise. Does this statue celebrate that event?....In Spielberg's film of Lincoln, there are a couple of Union soldiers, formerly slaves, who address Lincoln like a couple of Howard policsci graduates and list all the deficits in the Union's treatment of Black people. Well and good, but such black people did not exist at that time.....There's a widespread belief in Hollywood that people who are oppressed and downtrodden have been ennobled by the experience. Hardly. There's no reason to believe that Spartacus, Wat Tyler, the Molly Maguires would have brought forth a joyous and egalitarian world if their cause had triumphed.....Shakespeare got some of it right. Malvolio and Shylock were treated unfairly and it didn't make them better men. .

Lurker21 said...

Destroying and warehousing are different things. Museums used to be filled with plaster cast copies of ancient sculptures. Where are they now? Not destroyed, I hope, but no longer on display. And nowadays, statues may have to be warehoused or put in museums so that they aren't destroyed. There is still the slippery slope argument -- give the rioters a win on this and what will they demand next? -- but is every monument or statue that has ever been put up supposed to stay in place?

Big Mike said...

As I commented earlier, when Lincoln visited newly-captured Richmond he was swarmed with newly-freed slaves. Here is one contemporary depiction and description of the episode. The money quote (from Lincoln himself):

As Mr. Lincoln and his son [Tad] walked the streets of Richmond, one group of newly freed slaves cried out, "Glory Hallelujah!", and fell to their knees before Mr. Lincoln. It was here the President paused, and motioned for them to rise. "Don't kneel to me," he told them, "You must kneel only to God, and thank him for your freedom. Liberty is your birthright. God gave it to you as he gave it to others, and it is a sin that you have been deprived of it for so many years."

Perhaps if the black figure had been more upright, knees still flexed, Lincoln with a hand under his armpit, assisting him to rise, the allegory would be obvious enough so that even modern liberals could work it out. But then they'd be even more infuriated because Lincoln was a Republican, don't you know. That the Republican Party was founded on an anti-slavery platform and faced considerable resistance back in the 19th century from a pro-slavery Democrat Party, well, that has to be buried forever lest is hurt the brains of Millennials and Gen-Zers.

Northeastern Illinois University solves the problem with a plaque that dedicates their Frank Lloyd Wright building to "honoring the memory of Abraham Lincoln - Democrat." Which would surprise most American historians.

Darrell said...

"Arise, Darkie!" was perhaps not the right name for this statue.

Jupiter said...

"Agree the depiction could convey better. Having Abe stand tall to honor him causes the issue. If he were more at the same eye level to help the other man rise up it could be more compassionate."

Lincoln fervently hoped that it would be possible to get the Blacks to go back to Africa. So maybe he should be pointing towards the Atlantic Ocean.

Joe Smith said...

'The question "If he’s free, why is he still on his knees?"'

Maybe he's showing gratitude?

JaimeRoberto said...

Maybe they could add an inscription that indicates that the man is rising from his knees. Maybe something like "Emancipation".

PM said...

Yeah, I kinda get the pathetic supplicant adoring the magnanimous white enabler. But FFS, we've gotta stop adding quarters to this whirling commercial dryer of Presentism.

Jupiter said...

The question "If he’s free, why is he still on his knees?"'

"Maybe he's showing gratitude?"

Or maybe he's about to give Abraham Lincoln a blow-job. NTTAWWT.

Jupiter said...

He just needs some Presidential knee-pads.

Wince said...

Had the sculptor waited just a few seconds until Lincoln opened his jacket...

the damn thing would be celebrated as progressive art.

NSFW

n.n said...

The statue depicts Lincoln offer a proclamation of emancipation, which was done under authority granted to him as chief representative of the People (and our Posterity). The statue could also depict a Jesus moment, where Lincoln lends his hand to help the man rise, but that would be rejected as diversitist (e.g. a sign of white privilege) dogma that judges the dignity and value of people by the color of their skin and other low information social, physical, etc. attributes.

wildswan said...

The Emancipation and Anti-Slavery societies from 1787 on used a badge based on a design by Josiah Wedgewood. This showed a kneeling slave with hands uplifted and the saying "Am I Not a Man and a Brother." Picture at: https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_596365
And I believe this statue referred to that badge - in other words, the iconographic meaning said: "Yes, you are a man and a brother; I led the nation in a war and set you free." But since 180,000 members of the black community fought in the Civil War this was and is a limited view of how the slaves achieved freedom. Maybe something along the lines of a statue showing Lincoln taking the salutes of a black regiment as they went toward battle. And on the base could be the Emancipation Proclamation, the authority by which the soldiers were enlisted and also Jefferson Davis Retaliatory Proclamation that all officers and soldiers in Black regiments be treated as participants in servile insurrection. (for which the penalty was death. However, many black soldiers who were captured were sold in slave markets.) Now, since the monument to the 54th Massachusetts has been defaced, it's probably realistic to think that there's nothing that the group in the streets really wants except destruction and anarchy. But we could save and put aside ideas for a better monument to go up in a better time.

eddie willers said...

The black worship thing we’re going thru is incredibly fucking stupid.

Every generation discovers the negro. (and are outraged that they have been a secret for so long)

They then erase the past so they can be joyously discovered again.

Mark said...

You know, you shoot down this utter BS, and here it still gets regurgitated again and again. AA demands that we have new conversations, but then she posts this nonsense and we go round and round again chasing our tails.

Skippy Tisdale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Skippy Tisdale said...

"If he’s free, why is he still on his knees?"

This is how you know folks like this are full of shit because actually, he's not on his knees

tommyesq said...

Boston artist Tory Bullock, who started the petition, described it this way: 'I’ve been watching this man on his knees since I was a kid. It’s supposed to represent freedom but instead represents us still beneath someone else.

Every single person in this country owes their freedoms to someone else - I didn't fight the British or write the Declaration of Independence, I owe my freedom to those who did, and to those who fought over the ensuing 244 years to maintain it. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that one's situation was made better through the actions of another. Slaves were horribly mistreated, but that doesn't mean that non-slaves in America didn't contribute mightily to the ending of slavery, and it would be foolish to ignore that. Some may think of this as "white savior complex," but without those white saviors slavery would not have ended in 1863.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Fernandinande,

The Whappoo capitalized "White": Threat or menace?

The WaPo decided to capitalize both Black and White always, maybe four months ago. They are still in a quandary about Brown (too many peoples? The same would go for both black and white, had they thought to look), and we have so far not seen the same logic applied to LGBTQ++, though I'd bet that one's coming.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Should've added that it must drive George Will nuts to have capital-W White in his columns. He's been fighting this idiocy since he was in grad school.

Francisco D said...

Big Mike said...Northeastern Illinois University solves the problem with a plaque that dedicates their Frank Lloyd Wright building to "honoring the memory of Abraham Lincoln - Democrat." Which would surprise most American historians.

Back in the 70's I did a year of college work study in Humboldt Park with two seniors from Northeastern Illinois. Both were illiterate. They were also big time slackers. I always suspected that they wound up in mid-level government jobs.

Bunkypotatohead said...

It would be a fine statue of Lincoln if just the negro was removed.
That should pacify everyone. No need to get rid of the entire thing.

Joe Smith said...

"Or maybe he's about to give Abraham Lincoln a blow-job. NTTAWWT."

Except it's Lincoln, not Clinton or Obama.

Josephbleau said...

It’s too bad there was not a real definitive black led slave rebellion that let them kill the slaveholders. You don’t value a gift, you value what you worked for. I know there were black troops, not the same as self initiated rebellion. But I am sure that black troops that fought had a different perspective and attitude.

Hercules, not that one though said...

There was a mafia movie with Joe Pesci as a stone cold killer. Maybe it was 'Goodfellas'. Anyway, the story was that Pesci was a shine-box kid when he was young. He became a gangster. Some older gangster met up with Pesci's character in a bar, and reminded him of when he was a shoe-shine boy.

Pesci's character was no longer a shine-box boy. He didn't like to be reminded of it.

Personally, I have no problem with folks today not wanting a statue of a slave kneeling before Abraham Lincoln.

Readering said...

Hope they put it back some day.

Hercules, not that one though said...

Oh, Readering, are you the one who always calls for healing the wound, and then ripping off the scab, when the wound begins to heal.

Africans were brought to America as slaves. Their life trajectory with Europeans has been one of triumph. Africans were taught to read the Holy Bible. Africans saw their own story in Exodus and called out to Jesus to 'swing low, sweet chariot, comin' for to carry me home.'

A cataclysm of faith erupted between brothers in a war that rent this continent, and the world. Jesus won. Slaves throughout the millenia, HERE slaves were freed.

I understand that a statue would be created to commemorate the freeing of the slaves.

I also understand that generations later, the descendants of slaves would not want to be portrayed as the shine box kid.




Readering said...

And generations later the wound is healed enough that such statues are looked at the way we look at other historic stuff.

Hercules, not that one though said...

Readering...you are usually more up front and direct. I do not understand your comment, 'the way we look at other historic stuff.'

How do we look at other historic stuff? I've been pondering how our 2 sides have become so split. I think you hinted at it here, but the fact that we are so split, I don't understand you.

BTW...if you are LGBT...no, I'm not going to pay you to 'educate' me.

Jack Klompus said...

"And generations later the wound is healed enough that such statues are looked at the way we look at other historic stuff."

Was this from an essay you wrote in 8th grade?