Friday, September 23, 2011

MLK and Monuments

September 21st has been designated by the United Nations as International Day of Peace, an event that highlights the legacy of one of the most famous peacemakers in American history: Martin Luther King, Jr. In August, the monument commemorating his life and legacy was opened in a place of prominence in between the Lincoln and the Jefferson Memorials, comprising what the National Memorial Project Foundation’s website terms “a line of leadership." Despite setbacks surrounding the fund-raising efforts for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and differing opinions about its final design, its opening is a landmark achievement. Dr. King’s standing likeness almost mythically emerges from the “Stone of Peace,” which is encompassed by an ample tree-lined space, prompting reflection. While this statue features a stance of power that symbolizes the agency of African Americans in the fight for Civil Rights in the 1960s, Thomas Ball’s Freedman’s Memorial, or Emancipation Monument, in Lincoln Park (Washington, D. C.), remains a testament to the movement towards national conciliation at the expense of equal rights, a circumstance underscored by its dedication on the centennial of the nation’s founding. 

An 1863 Currier and Ives lithograph from the Print Collection of the AARL demonstrates “the standard representation of emancipation” from which Ball’s grouping is derived (Savage 1997, 56). As Kirk Savage explains in his monograph, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves, “The Freedman’s Memorial became the nation’s monument to emancipation even though the design might have better commemorated slavery” (129). Like Ball’s statue, this image also features a standing Abraham Lincoln and a kneeling enslaved African American man, but, unlike the Ball grouping, a mother figure with her children, presumably the formerly enslaved man’s family, are featured in the middle-ground of the composition. In the lithograph, Lincoln’s authority is reinforced through his positioning as the tallest figure, a stance that is exaggerated through the exaggerated through the extension of his right arm into the air and his upward-pointing index finger.
"Freedom to the Slaves," Lithograph, Currier and Ives (1863)
Proclaimed January 1st 1863, by Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States

“Proclaim liberty throughout All the land unto All the inhabitants thereof.” Lev XXV.10

Though similar to and resonant of the juxtaposition of Lincoln’s erectness against the subservience of the newly emancipated man in Ball’s Freedman’s Memorial, as a production of print culture, this image had the potential for a wider circulation and would be produced perhaps to ornament the home; by the mid-nineteenth century, the names of Currier and Ives were synonymous with pictorial reproductions that were meant to be available and affordable to all Americans. In the caption, a quotation from Leviticus frames the announcement of “Freedom to the Slaves,” as “Proclaimed” by Lincoln, conflating national events with biblical narratives, a rhetorical device that would have been welcomed by and comforting to many nineteenth-century viewers. The presence of the family grouping would thus possibly mirror the sacred place of home and family, negotiating a nuanced layering of God, nation, and home.
Engraving of The Freed Slave, Illustration for  Frank Leslie's Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition (1877)
At the Centennial Exposition in 1876, the same year that Thomas Ball’s statue was unveiled, however, Francesco Pezzicar’s The Freed Slave presented a very different picture of how the “freedman” could be represented. In his sculpture, a black man with outstretched arms looks upward, clutching a copy of the Emancipation Act in his left hand. Along with the Currier and Ives print, the collections of the AARL contain the reproduction of this statue in the pages of Frank Leslie's Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition. This picture also features a family combination of mother and children, but the most prominent member of this grouping is an African American boy, gazing up at the active and assertive man represented in the statue before him. The contrast between the Currier and Ives lithograph and the illustration in Frank Leslie’s Historical Register displays the prevailing sentiment promoting racial inequality during the Civil War and Reconstruction that would prompt the need for drastic social change one hundred years after emancipation; as King stated in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” These two images are among the many such examples of the richness of print and periodical culture located in the Print Collection at the AARL.


Brown, Josh. "Another View of the Statue of Emancipation." Picturing U.S. History. Accessed September 23, 2011.

National Memorial Project Foundation. "Build the Dream." Accessed September 23, 2011.
Savage, Kirk. Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Posted by Joy Bracewell, AARL Intern

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