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Emancipation and Freedom Monument unveiled on Brown's Island in Richmond

Posted at 1:23 PM, Sep 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-22 18:21:52-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A new monument on Brown's Island in Richmond was unveiled on Wednesday morning. The Emancipation and Freedom Monument honors the contributions of African Americans in Virginia who fought for freedom both before and after Emancipation.

The ceremony, held in heavy rain, started with a ceremony performed by the Elegba Folklore Society.

The two twelve-foot bronze statues depict a man, woman, and child newly freed from slavery.

The woman is cradling a child and holding a piece of paper with the date of January 1, 1863. That is the date President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

The man, who has whipping scars visible on his back, can be seen breaking free from a set of shackles.

Emancipation and Freedom Monument.jpg

Names, images, and biographies of ten Virginians whose lives represent the struggle for freedom both before and after Emancipation are displayed on the monument.

The names were selected by the Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission out of more than 100 nominations.

Five were chosen to represent the time before Emancipation:

  • Mary Elizabeth Bowser, a spy for the Union in the Confederate White House;
  • William Harvey Carney, a former slave who fought in the 54th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry Regiment and for his actions at Fort Wagner was the first African American awarded the Medal of Honor;
  • Gabriel, who led one of the half-dozen most important insurrection plots in the history of North American slavery;
  • Dred Scott, an enslaved man whose unsuccessful lawsuit for his freedom led to the infamous Supreme Court decision that persons of African descent were not United States citizens; and
  • Nat Turner, leader of the only successful slave revolt in Virginia's history, shattering the myth of the contented slave.

And five were chosen to represent the time after Emancipation to 1970:

  • Rosa Dixon Bowser, an educator, women’s rights activist, and social reformer who founded the first African American teachers association and co-founded the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and the National Association of Colored Women;
  • John Mercer Langston, Virginia’s first African American member of Congress and the first president of what is now Virginia State University;
  • John Mitchell, Jr., a community activist, the first African American to run for Governor of Virginia, and editor of the Richmond Planet newspaper, which covered local, national, and worldwide news, especially lynchings, segregation, and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan;
  • Lucy Simms, a prominent educator who taught three generations of African American children in the Harrisonburg area; and
  • Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, a Petersburg minister, civil rights activist, chief of staff to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam told the audience one of his proudest moments as governor occurred last week when the Robert E. Lee statue was removed from Monument Avenue. He said the Emancipation and Freedom monument unveiled at Brown's Island represents the Virginia of today and the future.

“They’re symbols of a Virginia that's reckoning with ugliness and inequality," Governor Northam said. "A Virginia that’s taking a deep hard look into what we need to do better and how to get there, a Virginia that tells the truth of our past so we can build a better future together."

The governor also said he hoped when future generations saw these statues, that they served as symbols of hope and the enduring will to fight for freedom.

Work on the statues was started in 2012 by a commission marking 150 years since the proclamation.

State Senator Jennifer McClellan (D - Richmond) chaired the commission.

McClellan called the statue her labor of love and said the monument painted a more complete and honest history of Virginia.

"That this monument, in particular, represents the triumph over tragedy and trauma and the hope that the enslaved people felt -- that one day they'd be free and that was as struggle and they feel all of that here," she said.