Robert E. Lee’s wonderful statue
On a wet day this week in Richmond, Virginia, a project that had been in the works for almost ten years finally materialized. On September 22, in front of a crowd of wet but devoted observers, Brown’s Island’s long-awaited Emancipation and Freedom Memorial was revealed and consecrated. The Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission started making preparations in 2013 in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of slavery in the United States. This eagerly anticipated event was not going to be canceled due to a weather forecast.
The statue’s design, by Oregon-based sculptor Thomas Jay Warren, was chosen in 2014 from a group of submissions. Two 12-foot bronze individuals are shown in the enormous sculpture. The first depicts a liberated man being let free from his bonds while keeping his eyes closed in a serene pose. The second depicts a freed woman proudly hoisting a paper bearing the date January 1, 1863—the day president Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation—over her head while holding a baby in one hand. She has wide-open eyes that appear to be fixed firmly on the horizon as she glances ahead.
The metal monument’s pedestal also includes ten portraits of men and women who actively participated in the anti – slavery movement and the subsequent struggle for real freedom. Inspirational individuals like Nat Turner, the commander of Virginia’s one and only successful slave uprising, Rosa Dixon Bowser, a professor of education and women’s rights activist who founded the very first African American educators affiliation, and Lucy Simms, a teacher who taught 3 generation after generation of African American children, are among them.
“Our open monuments serve as reminders of who we are and what we stand for… At the unveiling, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said, “These sculptures, they’re icons, too.” They represent a Virginia that is coming to terms with ugly and unfair conditions. Virginia that speaks the truth about our history so that we can together make a better future. These monuments serve as reminders of liberty, optimism, and the unwavering resolve to struggle for that liberty.
The presence of it, says state senator Jennifer McClellan, “I think it’s really perfect.” Virginia gave rise to Western liberal democracy, but it also gave rise to slavery and all of the atrocities that went along with it. Richmond has played a key role in that.
Although the bronze independence monument wasn’t actually supposed to be unveiled until 2019, it did so just 2 weeks after the contentious Robert E. Lee monument was taken down from its pedestal on Monument Street in Richmond. Sen. McClellan referred to it as a time of “sweet revenge” after a year marked by calls for reform amid obvious racial inequities and the dismantling of several obscene confederate statues. Sen. McClellan has taken a leading role in the design of the statue as the chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Committee.
She says, “This memorial has always symbolized a significant aspect of recovery.” Having that occur after COVID, the George Floyd murder, the coming to terms with racial inequity, and the beginning of the statues coming down is far more healing than it would have been in 2019.
Just 2 weeks after the Robert E. Lee monument was taken from Monument Avenue, Richmond, Virginia unveiled the Emancipation and Freedom Statue.
See the installation of the silver emancipation monument in the following video: