What is history? Can it be a monument? Our mothers collect lockets of hair, baby teeth, report cards and hand drawn valentines. A family historian collects old photos and obituaries of as many generations they can. A company compiles an Annual Report of its greatest achievements for its stockholders. A city will name its’ streets after its’ most famous residents and create museums that share its history. Even our Presidents give us their annual Report to the Nation. We do these things in order to have tangible evidence and records of an event or a person in history, at a certain moment in time. And they help us to listen, recall, and think. They help us to know, understand and share the story of how far we have come.
In 1865, our nation was ending a most horrible period in its great history. The horrible but “peculiar” institution we know as slavery had ended. Hundreds of thousands of families had lost their husband, father, brother or son, in order for this to happen. They had been led through the crisis by a simple man who lived by creed “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Then he was brutally assassinated. Our country’s former enslaved people wanted to erect a monument to this great man. A woman named Charlotte Rucker took the first money she ever made as a free person, to her former owner, and asked for his help. She wanted to see a monument of that man President Abraham Lincoln.
The same people who had helped the slaves before, would help them once again. It would take years, but in 1876, with the help of the Western Sanitary Commission, that monument would become a reality. That simple bronze monument, with two figures, a tall white man, and a black man rising on one knee, alongside him. The first ever to include a black person in our Nation’s Capital. It would share that man, with the Emancipation Proclamation at his elbow, leaning benevolently over a slave who had broken his own shackles, suggesting that the slave rise! The time had come for the former slave Archer Alexander to stand and take his place alongside him. That is the story of the Emancipation Memorial with Lincoln and Archer, in Lincoln Park, in Washington, D.C. Another was placed as a tribute and a thank you to the people of Boston, who had been so generous during the Civil War by the sculptor, a former resident named Thomas Ball.