BOSTON (CBS) – When the Christopher Columbus statue in Boston’s North End was beheaded this week, the city decided to remove it while leaders weigh its historic meaning. Now the Mayor’s office is considering what to do with the Emancipation Memorial in Boston’s Park Square.
The statue sits a block away from Boston’s Public Garden, nestled between the Park Plaza Hotel and the Legal Seafood restaurant. It’s a replica of the original statue in Washington, DC designed by Charlestown native Thomas Ball. It was built almost entirely with funds donated by former slaves.
It’s a statue that has bothered Dorchester native Tory Bullock since he was a kid. “I think the exact same thing as I did when I was a kid, that it’s ridiculously awkward,” he explained.
The statue depicts a towering Abraham Lincoln standing next to a freed slave kneeling at his feet with shackles on his wrists. It is sometimes called the Freedman’s Memorial. “A lot of people look at it like it represents freedom, but for me as a black man, walking down here, I don’t see freedom,” Bullock said.
We first introduced you to Tory last fall. He uses a camera and social media to bring awareness to social issues, calling himself a professional agitator.
His most recent post asks Boston’s Black community how they fell about the statue. When you read the comments, most agree with Tory.
“I don’t know maybe they should be standing equal to each other,” Tory said looking up at the statue. “Maybe shaking hands, I don’t know maybe wearing clothes and not chains,” he said describing the shirtless and shoe-less slave.
“It doesn’t make you feel good,” said Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards. Edwards, of East Boston told us she understands the artist’s goal was probably to lift people up, but she says for people who see it as a symbol of oppression, the message is lost. “It’s OK to see a statue in modern eyes. What was interpreted one way can be interpreted another way in the future,” she said.
We talked to a few people in the area. Two white men told us it should be taken down. But a man of color from Dorchester had to take a long look at the piece. “If it’s a sign of submission, I would be against it,” he said. “But if it’s a sign of conversation or appreciation or acknowledgement, that’s something else.”
For Tory the answer is clear. “The message is plain and simple, take it down. Hashtag, take it down. The bottom line, City of Boston, the people who look like me, we really don’t like this very much,” he said.
The Mayor’s office told us he is willing to talk to the community about the future of the statue. He also said he’s interested in potentially recommissioning it into something that recognizes equality. Since the statue is a memorial, it falls under the Arts Commission, so the City is looking at what that process might entail.