Rally attendees, demonstrators debate whether DC's Emancipation Memorial should stay or go (WJLA)
There was no shortage of passion as a rally got underway Friday evening at Lincoln Park in Southeast Washington. But among the crowd, there were people with drastically different opinions about what should happen to the Emancipation Memorial that sits in that park.
Some feel the statue, that features President Abraham Lincoln standing with his hand over the head of a formerly enslaved man by the name of Archer Alexander, is an important part of African American history.
Others feel the statue does not depict equality. And during Friday's rally, people on both sides of the debate shared their thoughts.
"I see an African American on his knees, barely clothed, in shackles, really in a degrading, demeaning position," said Marcus Goodwin, who said he supports the idea of moving the statue to a museum.
Earlier in the week, when a group of protesters announced plans to tear down the state, Goodin says he reached out to have a conversation with them.
"I talked to their lead organizer and said one, you don't announce you're going to do something like that two days before it happens. And two, you definitely want to go about it the route I proposed last week, and that's legally having our elected leaders stand up and have the opportunity make a change that the people want to see," said Goodwin.
Goodwin, who is also a candidate for an at-large seat on DC Council, said he started an online petition to remove the statue. He says it's gotten about 6,000 signatures so far.
Meanwhile, Marcia Cole from the group known as FREED, which stands for Female Re-Enactors of Distinction, tried to explain the history behind the statue when she got her turn with the megaphone. Speaking to the crowd, Cole reminded them that funds to build the statue were raised by formerly enslaved African Americans.
"People, have you gotten close to that statue? That man is on one knee! That man is rising! He's not in submission," Cole said. "He's looking forward to a future of freedom."
Some people could be heard encouraging the crowd to "respect their elders" as Cole spoke. Others shouted over her at times, saying it was white people that designed the statue.
Also in the crowd was a man who claimed to be a descendent of Archer Alexander. ABC7 spoke to Cedrick Turner prior to the start of the rally. He said he traveled from New York to be there.
"Archer Alexander is my great, great, great grandfather on my mother's side of the family," said Turner. "And I told myself, Cedric, you need to get down here, you need to try to express to them the importance of history, and his legacy. I just think it's a very valuable part of history that should stay exactly where it is."
But when Turner tried to address the crowd, many didn't want to hear what he had to say.
"He left a legacy in this country!," Turner shouted as demonstrators surrounded him, many of them booing and chanting over his words.
As the debate played out between people both for and against the Emancipation Memorial, the statue behind them sat surrounded by barriers and fencing. U.S. Park Police were also on scene, monitoring the crowd.
Glenn Foster, who earlier in the week had announced plans to tear the statue down, said he still wants to do just that.
"We are here because this statue represents the oppression of Black people," he said while speaking at the rally, which he said he organized.
At several points in the evening, Foster butted heads with those speaking about the Emancipation Memorial's history and advocating for the statue to stay where it is in Lincoln Park.
"Stop giving young people a history lesson," he said. "We don't care about it anymore! We want the statue down!"
The rally eventually came to a peaceful end, but not before several hours of spirited debate among those in attendance. Yet still, it appears the debate is far from over.
DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has said she plans to introduce legislation to remove the statue from Lincoln Park.
“Although formerly enslaved Americans paid for this statue to be built in 1876, the design and sculpting process was done without their input, and it shows," she wrote in a statement earlier this week. "The statue fails to note in any way how enslaved African Americans pushed for their own emancipation. Understandably, they were only recently liberated from slavery and were grateful for any recognition of their freedom. However, in his keynote address at the unveiling of this statue, Frederick Douglass also expressed his displeasure with the statue."