Making The Monument: Emancipation Group Timeline

The Emancipation Memorial, also known as the Freedman's Memorial or the Emancipation Group is a monument in Lincoln Park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C. It was sometimes referred to as the ""Lincoln Memorial"" before the more prominent so-named memorial was dedicated in 1922.

ON THE NATIONAL STAGE, in the center of political power, a monument to “freedom” finally emerged. This was the Freedmen’s Memorial to Abra- ham Lincoln, a project begun immediately after Lincoln’s death and com- pleted finally in 1876—neatly spanning the whole era of Reconstruction. Financed entirely by contributions from free blacks, the monument cam- paign was the most conspicuous attempt in public sculpture to capture the spirit of Reconstruction, to translate into the sculptural language of the human body principles of freedom that remained abstract and barely imaginable. While the nation attempted to redefine itself as a free inter- racial society, the Freedmen’s Memorial—first on its own, then in concert with other national monument projects—sought to make the interracial nation a palpable reality in public space. - Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (1997), ch. 4, p1

1863-01-01 16:10:44

The Emancipation Proclamation

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in states that remained part of the Union, including Maryland and Missouri. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy (the Southern secessionist states) that had already come under Union control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory. (Text adapted from The National Archives.)

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The Freedman, John Quincy Adams Ward

Later that year, in an art exhibition in New York City, sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward exhibited a two-foot-tall statuette titled The Freedman. Ward created it in response to the Emancipation Proclamation. "The piece shows a seminude man poised on a tree stump, holding a broken manacle—an apparent fugitive from slavery, one of the many Lincoln hoped would escape to the Union ranks to secure the freedom promised by his proclamation...Several writers actually made the suggestion that The Freedman be enlarged to heroic size and erected permanently to mark the new era of freedom promised by the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address." This never happened. "Emancipation entered public sculpture instead through the body of the white hero Abraham Lincoln. Despite the efforts of numerous sculptors to introduce the figure of the African American into the monumental equation, the bodies of the emancipated themselves for the most part did not even materialize." - Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (1997), pp. 52-54.

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Assassination of President Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by the stage actor John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, while attending the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. Lincoln died the following morning at 7:22 a.m. He was the first U.S. president to be assassinated, leading to an extended period of national mourning. The assassination occurred just five days after the General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate troops to the Union General Ulysses S. Grant.

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Inspiration from Assassination

Thomas Ball (1819-1911), an American sculptor, was en route from Munich, Germany to Florence, Italy when he heard about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. As soon as he arrived in Florence, he began to work on “a study, half-life size of the ‘Emancipation Group,’ which had been bubbling in my brain ever since receiving those horrible tidings in Munich."

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Monument Funding

The funding drive for the monument began, according to much-publicized newspaper accounts from the era, with $5 given by Charlotte Scott, a former slave then residing with the family of her former master in Marietta, Ohio, for the purpose of creating a memorial honoring Lincoln.

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Emancipation Group (Bronze, Sheild), Thomas Ball

Ball produced at least four half-life-size versions of the Emancipation Group in bronze between ca. 1865 and 1873. The known bronze versions feature Lincoln holding a shield. Except for the bronze version of the Emancipation Group that Thomas Ball kept for himself (now at Montclair Art Museum), the other versions were likely commissioned by Americans who visited Ball’s studio in Florence. Sculptors’ studios were popular destinations for American tourists in Italy.

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Monument Commissioning

The Western Sanitary Commission initially chose a design for the Freedman's Memorial by the sculptor Harriet Hosmer. Hosmer's design, which was ultimately deemed too expensive, posed Lincoln atop a tall central pillar surrounded by smaller pillars topped with figures representing a cycle of African American history, from enslavement to the Black Union soldier. Allegorical figures of victory formed another level in the pyramidal design. A model of her 1866 design was exhibited in Boston and widely praised. The image illustrated here was a revised version of the memorial published in 1868.

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Lincoln and the Emancipated Slave, Randolph Rogers

In 1866, a committee from Philadelphia determined to erect a monument to Lincoln. Randolph Rogers and Thomas Ball both submitted designs. Ball submitted his Emancipation Group design in 1867. His design would later be considered for the Freedman's Memorial.

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Forever Free, Edmonia Lewis

Mary Edmonia Lewis (ca. 1843-1907) was an American sculptor of African American and Ojibwe heritage. She settled in Rome, Italy in 1865 and became the first African American sculptor to achieve national and international prominence. The 1867 sculpture Forever Free celebrates emancipation. Lewis attempted to break stereotypes of African Americans with this sculpture. For example, she portrayed the woman as completely dressed rather than as a sexualized figure. She recognized the freed man's masculinity and ability to provide for a family through the protective placement of his hand on the woman's shoulder. This piece is held by Howard University Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

1869-09-01 00:00:00

Eliot visits Ball in Italy

In 1869, Reverend William Greenleaf Eliot, a leader of the Western Sanitary Commission, visited Thomas Ball’s studio in Florence and saw the plaster model for the Emancipation Group. Eliot would later convince the Commission to use Ball's design for the Freedman's Memorial.

Making The Monument: Emancipation Group Timeline

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