“I warmly congratulate you upon the highly interesting object which has caused you to assemble in such numbers and spirit as you have today. This occasion is in some respects remarkable…Wise and thoughtful men of our race, who shall come after us…will make a note of this occasion, they will think of it. And speak of it. With a sense of manly pride and complacency…Few facts could better illustrate the vast and wonderful change which has taken place in our condition as a people than the fact of our assembling here for the purpose we have today. An act which is to go into history.” Frederick Douglass at the dedication of “Freedom’s Memorial” also known as the Emancipation Monument in Washington, D.C. on the eleventh anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
When the formerly enslaved Charlotte Scott heard the news of President Lincoln’s death, she was horrified and took the first five dollars in money she had earned as a free woman, and gave them to her former master Mr. William P. Rucker. She asked him “to make a monument to Massa Lincoln, the best friend the colored people ever had”. Rucker would take those funds to Gen. T.H.C. Smith, and he would make sure that they were given to Mr. James Yeatman, Head of the Western Sanitary Commission, of whom he asked “Would it not be well to take up this suggestion and make it known to the freedmen?”
And with that the Western Sanitary Commission, a non-governmental non-profit, organized at the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, solely to assist the Union Army, would work to see Charlotte Scott’s dream happen. Organized for the Union troops, both black and white, the WSC worked with the Union Army’s U.S. Colored Troops, contraband camps, fugitive slaves and the Freedmans Bureau. Yeatman would put the Commission’s William G. Eliot at the helm of the project. Fundraising efforts were known throughout the country and all of the funds came from everyone from formerly enslaved individuals to the Union Army’s United States Colored Troops. The entire project was “with funds contributed solely by emancipated citizens declared free by his proclamation”. “These funds were given in grateful memory of Abraham Lincoln.” This President had worked to keep our country united and see that its’ Declaration of Independence which had proclaimed “all men are created equal” and endowed with “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” was upheld and that all slaves were declared free and slavery was ended. This man had given his life because of his work to emancipate all blacks.
By 1866 Gen. J. W. Davidson’s troops had helped raise $12,150, of the $16,242. (Today that would be equal to over $385,000). In 1869, Eliot would visit his friend Thomas Ball’s studio and share how the funds were coming entirely from the formerly enslaved for this memorial and that it was to be “their monument.” Ball quickly agreed that the amount of funds already collected were sufficient. The WSC asked Ball to make changes because it was felt that the monument was “too passive”. The original plan had called for a black man kneeling wearing a soldier’s cap before Lincoln. The cap was removed and the slave was to be seen rising, having broken his own chains and taking an active part in gaining his freedom. That slave that is immortalized and represents those formerly enslaved is Archer Alexander. William Greenleaf Eliot, was a Unitarian minister who had founded Washington University in St. Louis was his benefactor. In 1863, Eliot had seen that Archer received his freedom, calling him “the last fugitive slave.” “In the Capitol grounds at Washington, DC there is a bronze group known as Freedoms Memorial. It represents President Lincoln in the act of emancipating a negro slave, who kneels at his feet to receive his benediction, but whose hand has grasped the chain as if in the act of breaking it, indicating the historical fact that the slaves took active part in their own deliverance.” William Greenleaf Eliot, From Slavery to Freedom – Archer Alexander.
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