June 29, 2020
Telling Image of Race at DC Emancipation Statue

Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/The Washington Post Caption: Tonight, Anais, 26, from DC, who wants the statue depicting President Lincoln with an outstretched arm over a freed slave crouching at his feet removed from Lincoln Park, in an argument with a man who wants the statue to remain, June 25, 2020.

Telling Image of Race at DC Emancipation Statue

Well, it’s not often you see a photo this politically charged, this full of symbolism. The question is where to begin.

By Michael Shaw



It’s an especially symbolic photo as America reckons with its legacy of Black slavery. Photographer Evelyn Hockstein made the picture at The Emancipation Memorial in D.C. as protesters call for its removal. Dating to 1876, the statue features Lincoln holding the Emancipation Proclamation while a freed slave, shirtless with broken shackles, rests at his feet on one knee. The statue, I should add, was funded by the wages of freed slaves.

The photo is so suggestive, it’s hard to know what to talk about first.

Do you start with the whitesplaining? the mansplaining? the insistence on the white man’s rendition of history?

What about the generation gap?

Or, the gap between the old guard and the “Defund the Police” bandanna?

Perhaps, with the white guy more proximate to the waste bin?

Or who has the greater exposure to the virus?

What about the difference in agitation–in contrast to who’s more typically labeled “worked up.”

What about the effect of the man’s hand seeming to almost join Lincoln’s, as if to bond over the “freed” slave. “You can’t find the same reverence?” the white citizen seems to ask, as the low figure on the statue, representing–to her, at least–the black man stripped of everything, freed with nothing, and facing a lifetime of inhumanity, violence, and economic slavery.

And what about the more powerful and grounded frontwise stance on top of the look to the heavens that says “I (or we) have heard enough”?

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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