Standing Up for Freedom

Protesters recently threatened to tear down the Emancipation Memorial, a statue of Abraham Lincoln and a former slave, Archer Alexander that stands in Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Park. This commemoration was paid for by freed slaves, and Frederick Douglass delivered his “Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln” at its unveiling. Thankfully, their efforts were thwarted by police officers and everyday citizens.

The statue is controversial because Alexander is kneeling next to Lincoln. Some, like Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, have called for the statue’s removal, because she believes the portrayal is demeaning. Douglass himself thought it was incomplete. Yet Douglass’ disagreement on design did not prevent him from offering his eloquent sentiments in support of the statue’s purpose.

And not all share Norton’s interpretation of the Emancipation Memorial. Marcia Cole, a member of the Female RE-Enactors of Distinction (FREED), an affiliate of the African American Civil War Museum, remarked that, “People tend to think of that figure as being servile but on second look you will see something different, perhaps. That man is not kneeling on two knees with his head bowed. He is in the act of getting up. And his head is up, not bowed, because he’s looking forward to a future of freedom.”

The statue shows the moment of liberation, rather than a state of subjugation. Alexander is strong and his face determined. His shackles have been rent, and he is poised like a runner at the starting gate. But rather than having both hands on the ground to steady himself, a single fist is clenched mid-air with resolve. This man knows only too well that he has been “kept down,” and that no one will be able to keep him there any longer.   

The true significance of the memorial is what it symbolizes. It stands for the fulfillment of justice brought about by emancipation.

Indeed, it was common for abolitionist art to portray kneeling enslaved men in order to force the question, “am I not a man and a brother?” This compelled slave-owners to face their own hypocrisy. For a kneeling slave is not appealing to any alleged superior, but to a standard of justice. The depiction is an affirmation, not a rejection, of the principle “all men are created equal.”

The Emancipation Memorial provides such an example. Alexander is powerful not just for his physicality but because he has the force of right behind him. Where the memorial stands, citizens are free to gather and discuss these ideas and consider the statue’s meaning.

Protesters affiliated with “The Freedom Neighborhood,” however, have been intent on utilizing force, rather than the free exchange of ideas, to achieve their policy goals. They have declared that, “To achieve true justice, we are not working with the police, nor will we seek any relationship with them. In order to create change, we will do so by any means necessary. If you want a revolution, it won’t happen by being peaceful.” These individuals have no regard for the responsibilities of citizenship and are advocating for anarchy. And anarchy is a stepping stone towards tyranny. Such protesters are risking the destruction of this country and its principles, the country that once stood firmly against tyranny, as this statue reminds us.

For the true significance of the Emancipation Memorial is what it symbolizes. It stands for the fulfillment of justice brought about by emancipation. That deed was the accomplishment of countless men and women, many of whom gave their lives in the sacrifice of war as well as the “first martyr President of the United States.” Lincoln joins Alexander because, though Lincoln was sometimes forced to make compromises, he never lost sight of his objectives of preserving the Union and freeing the slaves.

As Frederick Douglass explained: “It mattered little to us what language he might employ on special occasions; it mattered little to us, when we fully knew him, whether he was swift or slow in his movements; it was enough for us that Abraham Lincoln was at the head of a great movement, and was in living and earnest sympathy with that movement, which, in the nature of things, must go on until slavery should be utterly and forever abolished in the United States.”

Douglass credited Lincoln with being the leader of the movement to end slavery. By calling for the destruction of the Emancipation Memorial, protesters stand in opposition, not solidarity, to that movement.  

*A previous version of this essay misstated Douglass’ opinion on the statue.

Reader Discussion

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on July 03, 2020 at 09:56:08 am

Good essay, particularly the analysis of the monument. It is always worth making a rational analysis.

But remember that the “protestors” are marxist revolutionaries of one form or another and pointing out *to them* contradictions is their positions is futile. They’ve absorbed Marx’s polylogism and post-modernism — for them, words are merely weapons in the struggle to annihilate capitalism and Western civilization.

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Charles N. Steele
on July 03, 2020 at 11:32:21 am

Yes, good essay. Ken Masugi also did a nice piece at american Greatness on the Monument (unfortunately, I can no longer find the link) in which he showed that the intent of the monument is to depict a freedman RISING up from his servitude and offered citations from contemporaries to prove that point.

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on July 03, 2020 at 12:22:16 pm

I have seen and reflected often on the finest of them: the awesome Seated Lincoln of Daniel Chester French (D.C.'s Lincoln Memorial,) the graceful Standing Lincoln of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Chicago's Lincoln Park, and Thomas Ball's Freedman's/Emancipation Memorial in Capitol Hill's Lincoln Park, a memorial which I choose to call "Liberating Lincoln with Freed Man Rising." If one looks into the heart, Ball's is the best, for its emotionally-powerful meaning and extraordinary history. President Grant, whose military valor saved the nation, attended the dedication; Frederick Douglass, a self-freed, self-educated, self-willed moral giant, dedicated it; and the memorial depicts a freedman who lived when it was made and our greatest president whose assassination was still a fresh, painful national memory when the monument was dedicated. Emancipation memorials do not get more "living" than that.

Ms. Hafera's essay is a worthy encomium to Ball's creation. And Charles Steele's comment is spot on re the futility of reason in responding to the neo-Marxists who have incited to riot for removal of the monument (although, as lewd gratification of their moral perversity, the DC mob really wants not to remove but to deface, topple, decapitate and shatter the statue.)

As to evil lurking in the hearts of men, glee taken from crushing truth and joy in destroying beauty, Mao, the Gang of Four, the Taliban and ISIS have nothing on these home-grown-in America, neo-Marxists who falsely call themselves "Black Lives Matter. (In the interest of truth, we must insist they be called "Only a Select Few Black Lives Matter.")

They have read the playbooks and learned the strategies of Lenin, Antonio Gramsci and Saul Alinsky, embraced from the Sixties the street tactics of the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground, and adopted the contemporary racial politics of Barack Obama, Al Sharpton and Ta-Nehisi Coates. They are armed for racial war, cultural destruction and political revolution with the fortunes of Fortune 500 corporations, the propaganda power of social and news media, and the willing para-military and mob assistance of millions of useful idiots, two entire lost generations of White and Black minds wasted by American universities.

The neo-Marxists who would dynamite the Emancipation Memorial appreciate nothing of the singular beauty of its artistry, care nothing for its extraordinary history and are capable of grasping nothing of its profound meaning. They are enemies of civilization, social miscreants who have chosen a life of sociopathy.

Riding the Fourth Horse of the Apocalypse, they have "become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Self-defense is imperative. Now, we are all Horatius on the Bridge.

None of its

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on July 03, 2020 at 12:30:44 pm

Here it is: Masugi's take on the Memorial


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on July 03, 2020 at 18:14:35 pm

Ms. Hafera does a very good job interpreting the Emancipation Memorial, and explaining its significance. It is true however that such knowledge is itself insufficient to address the forces that threaten the monument. Professor Steele is quite correct that such explanations do not penetrate ideologically blinkered minds. It is not only a lack of understanding or appreciation however that imperils our commemorative statuary. We may consider other perspectives, such as that which contemplates the priorities of those who destroy monuments. A brief review of news and commentary suggests the following, incomplete sampling of motives and rationales:

1. The monuments conflict with not only a fashionable narrative, but with a determined project of myth-making. The priority inferred from some who would pull down statues of abolitionists and saints and Abraham Lincoln, in addition to the Emancipation Memorial, is that blacks are responsible for their own emancipation. The abolition of slavery, they would have us believe, was not the result of changing attitudes and moral and ethical evolution (and a civil war), but a continuation of the Haitian Rebellion. The myth to be created provides that non-Africans had a singular role in the history of slavery, and that role did not include anything having to do with its end.

2. The destruction of statues is not so much concerned with hiding painful episodes of history, as it is with contesting the right of the dominant culture to define that history. When the President of Notre Dame covered up the Ligourian murals of Christopher Columbus, he was not covering up the history of 1492, but rather the history of 1885, when the murals were painted. Likewise, pulling over the Emancipation Memorial is an exercise in repudiating the post-bellum era, because the actual history conflicts with irrational demands of what it should have been.

3. Wanton destruction always has a constituency among the affluent and bored who have a nagging fear that they will eventually be disappointed in themselves.

4. One viral video depicted a hysterical white female screeching at a dignified black man protecting the Emancipation Memorial. She wailed that "they should be on the same side" and could not begin to grasp why they, in fact, were not. What was noticeable in this interaction is that the shrieking, nearly hysterical white woman did not need the statue to come down to promote racial justice, she needed it to come down to provide a climax in the emotional drama that she mistook for reality. The statue was merely a prop in the heroic epic of which she is the only significant character. She not only needed the statue to come down, she needed the opposing black man to need the statue to come down as well. The statue needed to come down for the same reason that people with OCD wash their hands repeatedly: that there is an irrational anxiety that cannot be tamed in the ordinary course of dealing with the world as it is, and demands a compulsive focus on rituals and perseverations that are ultimately pathological. She could not explain what good would come of removing the statue, because only the anxieties and obsessions that shaped her internal drama demanded it.

5. Soi disant revolutionaries think that toppling statues makes them look potent. The symbolic imagery of Saddam Hussein's statue coming down, or that of Stalin, or any one of a number of tyrants is supposed to provide a climax to revolutionary struggle. The fact that the United States has no statues erected by tyrants during their own lifetimes, to their own self-aggrandizement is simply an obstacle to be overcome by play-acting. If the statue of an American autocrat or dictator cannot be found, the iPhones and vacuous social media will probably accommodate conquest of a statue of a librarian, or football coach or botanist.

6. Perhaps a significant number of protesters realize that in very relevant ways, they are not worthy of Archer Alexander. In the back of their minds is the possibility that their self-image amidst lives of privilege and affluence and narcissistic grievance are inconvenienced by the struggles and triumphs of people like Archer Alexander. Without the advantages that modern society provides, they would not be up to the challenges faced, and overcome by the likes of Mr. Alexander. The spoiled, pampered, silly demonstrators may realize, deep down, in places that they try to suppress with shouting and rioting, that they do not have the courage or resolve of such people. Maybe the Emancipation Memorial reminds them that they don't measure up ; that the statue captures a strength of character that is lacking in those who would destroy it.

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on July 04, 2020 at 13:28:21 pm

Z's explication of the statue toppling phenomenon delves into the heart of our current problems.
The "hysterical white woman" episode reveals what is, and must be the inevitable consequence of *reality* confronting, and disabusing the irrational and emotionally unstable of their rather peculiar conception of reality. Grounded in nothing more than an ongoing series of distortions, lies directed at both American history / culture AND, importantly, the unsuspecting but all - too - willing recipient / zealous acolyte, it is made palatable to the recipient by the promise of their individual moral and cultural salvation. In a Kierkegaardian fashion, the recipient overcomes their "fear and trembling' and dispenses with this unnerving "unquietude" via the process of vocal, and at times violent release of a moral substitute which we may term "strategic rage."
What then, when even that rage is confronted by a differing reality? when those that we have appointed ourselves to 'save" neither appear willing, or in need of salvation.
Nietzsche claimed that "without God, all is possible."
Without that self aggrandizing moral outrage, it may very well be that for our "recipient" NOTHING is possible. Thus the rage and confusion and the inevitable internal questioning.
We may be certain however that such "questioning" will not last long; instead we will observe further and perhaps more hysterical demonstrations of 'moral outrage."
What can be expected of those who have, for their entire lives, been coddled and were the subjects of "self-esteem building" and have not once been asked to justify their positions / opinions other than by recourse to "IT is MY opinion."

Yet, here, I must aver that WE, their parents must share some of the responsibility for our lack of due diligence and oversight of their *education* (such as that has come to mean).
We could have, and should have done better.
Let us hope it is not too late. Madison informs us that, as did Lincoln that "public opinion is everything and both men sought to insure that the means of affecting that opinion were in responsible / virtuous hands. Such is not the case today and opinion is being shaped by 2nd and third rate minds in all of our media communications apparatus. We must, at EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE offer up a more realistic alternative to the delusions which pass for au courant "opinion."

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on July 04, 2020 at 13:53:14 pm


“Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love but to use violence to get what they want.”
All human life matters, including the lives of those beloved innocent sons and daughters residing in their mother’s womb.

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on July 04, 2020 at 14:24:02 pm

Fascinating topic, the eruption of what I would call America's "Anti-Monuments Men" and the demons that drive them.
Without commenting on each of his random empirical observations from TV news media, I think that Z9Z99 infers correctly that there are two overarching motivations, one politically straightforward and simple, the other a myriad of complex psychological forces.

The primary motivation is that of the typically-ruthless, postmodern nihilist's pursuit of a new anti-humanist political order by writing his own historical script, one in which the participant creates the meaning, truth is a construct of power and group identity, and the emotionally- gratifying project of creating and subjectively rewriting history is fostered by the degree to which the new narrative deviates from and fragments prior historical scripts, as in the 1619 Project, and abetted by destroying the historical symbols of prior power/group identity narratives, as in the Anti-Monuments Men's campaign of memorial destruction.

This is mere sheer power politics in service of neo-Marxist ideology.

There are also, as Z states, a great many perverse psychological forces at work among the Anti-Monuments Men. I would include among them the lack of the courage requisite to life, greatly diminished self-esteem (notice how many in the mob are both emotionally and physically ugly) which aggravates the fear of life and, perhaps most importantly, the attempt to deny death and achieve cosmic significance by adopting an ideological transference object of ostensible transcendent meaning.

In essence, then, sympathy for the oppressed is both political pretense and emotional desperation. The Anti-Monuments men are The Hollow Men, living on the fumes of the civilization they need to despise.

None of what I say is original. The political and the psychological roots of such group behavior are discussed in Eric Hoffer's The True Believer, Freud's Group Psychology etc and Becker's The Denial of Death.

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on July 04, 2020 at 14:50:03 pm

I obtained a similar view from Hoffer's Escape From Freedom where many of the same dynamics are in play.
Now off to golf (or what passes for it nowadays)

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on July 04, 2020 at 15:45:49 pm

So, "the beat goes on."

I read Gabe's post after I had posted. In my post-post thoughts on his prior post, I want to address Gabe's post that, "Yet, here, I must aver that WE, their parents must share some of the responsibility for our lack of due diligence and oversight of their *education* (such as that has come to mean).
We could have, and should have done better."

First off: as the Washington Post posts daily on its banner (in one of postmodern journalism's most ironic, least iconic posts,) "Democracy dies in darkness (and we'll turn out the lights for ya.'')
So, in response to the notion that "we" (generic parents, I assume) coulda shoulda done better, I confess that I exercised the only powers I had to stop Jeff Bezos from turning out the lights on democracy: I stopped subscribing to the Washington Post during Ronald Reagan's first term and stopped reading it altogether during his second term. I did the same to the New York Times, CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS. And I told everybody I know to do the same. (No one I know did. And democracy in DC is more in the dark and closer to dying now than then.)

Secondly, I sent my children through 54 years of PRIVATE education and subjected them to my steady intellectual oversight and moral influence throughout. I saved them from public schools and group-think, and in so doing I did my most vital part with my "little platoon" to keep democracy from dying in darkness. They are all outstanding young Paladins.

Finally, my children came of intellectual age (high school and college) as postmodernism was starting to flourish in the academies. Thus, I had to counteract that toxicity. What I did for them (and what I think parents must insure that their high school and college-age children understand and resist) is well-stated by quoting Gertrude Himmelfarb:
"In literature, postmodernism amounts to a denial of the fixity of any “text,” of the authority of the author over the interpreter, of any “canon” that privileges great books over comic books. In law, it is a denial of the fixity of the Constitution, of the authority of the founders of the Constitution, and of the legitimacy of law itself, which is regarded as nothing more than an instrument of the ruling class. In philosophy, it is a denial of the fixity of language, of any correspondence between language and reality, indeed of any “essential” reality and thus of any proximate truth about reality. In history, it is a denial of the fixity of the past, of the reality of the past apart from what the historian chooses to make of it, and thus of any objective truth about the past."

I could do no more. Other parents, Horatius on the Bridge, all, should do no less.
Happy Independence Day to our "republic, if we can keep it."

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on July 04, 2020 at 22:13:00 pm

From your previous comment “The Anti-Monuments men are The Hollow Men, living on the fumes of the civilization they need to despise.” Marvelous language.

And thank you for rearing several reality oriented responsible young Paladins to help carry the torch of liberty unto the next generations. But in addition to your investment in 54 student years of tuition, etc., you undoubtedly contributed a princely sum in property, sales, payroll, and state and/or federal income taxes over these last decades. Some of that funded a confused Dept. of Education, but also a Dept. of Defense, that in turn funded the contractor that employed me. So thank you also for that.

We must also remember that the Progressive, Marxist, Leftist, Proto-totalitarian domestic enemy within did not start out waving their red flag from the ramparts for all to see. Seeds planted by Wilson and Dewey and others were more fully and richly manured by Gramsci, the Frankfurt School, et al. This was done in the hedgerows and dark corners of the woods, not in open fields. Only now are they ready to attempt to harvest their many varieties of nightshade, aided and abetted by a mix of hoodwinked naïve MSM and in-the-know malign “journalists” and publishers, people who should be the 4th Estate, but are really now a 5th column. Yes, the hour is late, but we now have the Internet to help spread the voices of liberty. And perhaps the enemy has sprung their trap too soon, so that many more of our fellow citizens are seeing the mist part, thus exposing the potential tyranny that the radicalized mob would drive us towards.

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on July 04, 2020 at 22:27:36 pm

Somebody say "Amen."

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on July 05, 2020 at 01:01:11 am

The train of thought that runs through the original essay and subsequent comment thread for this post is noteworthy. It begins with Ms. Hafera's essay, which describes the portrayal of Archer Alexander with words such as "physicality," "strong," "justice," "equal," "determined," and "resolve." We may infer that Mr. Alexander is portrayed with a degree of dignity.

Professor Steele then remarks how this portrayal is not likely to influence those who would destroy it, because they have other agendas. This is followed by posts that again address the interpretation of the statue and how attempts to destroy it are representative of more substantial threats and destructive ideologies. I offered a brief opinion of what I thought were some of the motives, practical and psychological behind the broader phenomenon of destroying statues and monuments. This was followed by three posts referring to motives, with a reference to T. S. Eliot, a post from Nancy referring to abortion, and a reminder of the corrosive role of post-modernism. These latter posts bring us back to the opening essay, in that they likewise relate to the indispensable idea of dignity.

Nancy has been nothing if not consistent in these comments regarding the nature and worth of the human person. It helps to recall that the word "dignity" derives from the Latin word "dignus," meaning "worthy."

The concept of dignity is a casualty of post-modernism. It has no relevance to Archer Alexander, or Frederick Douglass, or Abraham Lincoln or anyone else, in post-modern thought. Dignity is inherent in humanity, and post-modernism is anti-human. This is also true of post-modernism's toxic isomers: Marxism, Critical Theory, deconstructionism, etc.

Michelangelo claimed that the role of the sculptor was to free the sculpture from the surrounding stone; to remove the excess stone to discover the beauty hidden by the uncut marble. In an analogous way, the goal of a free citizen in a civilized society is to remove the ideological, resentful, and dismissive attitudes from our interactions with each other so that we may treat each other with dignity and respect. The post-modernist approach however is to not so much remove as to reject, everything that threatens a morbid, joyless and self-centered world-view. It has no room for dignity, or respect, or monuments, or history. Post-modernism is a doctrine of wanton and insatiable rejection. It is as though the goal of the sculptor is to remove the stone until there is no stone left.

As Paladin has noted, the rationales and motives for destroying monuments can be grouped roughly into two classes: political and psychological. These are not independent however. The present mood is not the effect of a political crisis or a collection of psychological ones. It is, to be very unfashionable, a spiritual one. This is not a religious crisis, nor a doctrinal one, but one that results from the capricious and stupid rejection of what was once a cherished and invaluable cultural inheritance.

Dignity is not a collective trait. It identifies a person as uniquely as does a fingerprint. Individual dignity is indispensable to civilization because giving and keeping one's word is indispensable to civilization and in a free society a person must be allowed the dignity of doing so. Talk of "justice," however modified by fashionable and non-sensical adjectives, is meaningless in a society that does not recognize the dignity of the individual human person, as an individual.

I suspect that many of the claims and exhortations and actions in our present culture wars will turn out to be attacks on, and defense of, the idea of individual dignity, whether we realize it or not.

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on July 05, 2020 at 15:52:15 pm

Yes! Exactly right. Dignity is the tie that binds.
While the divine spark of human dignity illuminates the Lincoln of Emancipation, Appomattox and Abolition and defines Pope Saint John Paul II's victory over tyranny and his sermons for the Gospel of Life, thuggery by the enemies of dignity defiles its monuments.

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on July 05, 2020 at 11:10:25 am


And Yes, it was *generic* parents, not specific parents. Not unlike you, I also subjected my children to what is now, sadly, an alternative view of our regime. That, coupled with the reality of working life has produced budding conservatives.

BUT: It cannot be denied that for far too many families, the burden of earning a wage, caring for a household, etc etc may be sufficient to prevent those parents from taking a more active role in their childrens "civic" and "civil" education. It strikes me that we suffer from a lack of both civic (political / historical comprehension) and civil education / training (mob behavior / psycho-social play acting, etc). And yet, this is not a parenting problem associated only with lower incomes BUT, as events prove, many in the upper middle and upper classes. Undoubtedly, some deluded, guilt ridden upper-crusters may have encouraged this anti-social ignorance in their offspring BUT a rather large proportion of parents simply left these two crucial elements of a proper education to the educational *experts.* Ha! That has worked out as we observe.
As you suggest, it takes effort and resources to oversee ones' offspring.
I (we) both recognize that it is worth the effort; far too many do not. And even, when those parents expended the resources required to insure a good (albeit, now, false) education at a *good* school, such efforts and salutary aims of the parents were defeated by the half-baked intellectual follies of the academy. Thus, we have what we observe. A mob of mal-educated, unthinking, deluded zealots convinced of their righteousness and when confronted with reality are able only to muster outrage, if not outright rage and violence.
Perhaps, this IS a case of the "sins of the father' being visited not only the sons but also on the parents.

Am presently reading Colleen Shaheens "The Mind og James Madison." Nice little book in which she examines Madison's thinking on the effect and value of "public opinion." Like Lincoln, Madison understood that a regime is both defined and circumscribed by public opinion. Both Madison and Lincoln understood that it was indeed proper for the regime to encourage, instill and or otherwise inculcate into the citizenry respect for the regime.
It strikes me that WE. as a polity, no longer adhere to such a belief. Rather, it has become fashionable to denigrate the regime, to instill hate, fear, and loathing.
Were we asleep when this transformation in pedagogy occurred? Or were we more concerned with "getting them to college so that they could get a good job."

Just some thoughts on a post-Independence Day morning.

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