Emancipation and Freedom Monument unveiled at Brown’s Island

The 12-foot bronze Emancipation and Freedom statue was unveiled on Sept. 22 on Brown’s Island in Richmond. The statue depicts a man breaking free from shackles and a woman holding a child. Photo by Megan Lee

Emma Carlson, Contributing Writer

The new Emancipation and Freedom Monument was unveiled on Brown’s Island by the Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission on Sept. 22, according to the commission’s website

The 12-foot bronze monument was designed by Thomas Jay Warren and depicts a man breaking free from shackles and a woman holding a child, symbolizing freedom from slavery. 

Gov. Ralph Northam, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan were in attendance at the unveiling ceremony, according to the MLK Memorial Commission website.

The date of the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863, is raised by one of the figures in the newly erected Emancipation and Freedom monument. Photo by Megan Lee

“We talk often about the need to make sure that we tell and teach the full and true story of our shared history,” Northam said at the unveiling ceremony. “How we must ensure that everyone understands where we have been so we can build a more inclusive future together.”

At the base of the monument are the names and biographies of 10 African Americans from Virginia who aided in the emancipation and freedom movements prior to 1865 and up through 1970, according to the MLK Memorial Commission website.

Warren’s designs for the statues were solidified in 2014, and the statues began the assembly process in 2020, according to the MLK Memorial Commission website.

“Dedicated to the contributions of African American Virginians in the centuries-long fight for emancipation and freedom, the monument highlights notable African American Virginians who have made significant contributions to the emancipation and freedom of formerly enslaved persons or descendants,” the MLK Memorial Commission website stated.

The new monument on Brown’s Island comes exactly two weeks after the Robert E. Lee statue was removed from Marcus-David Peters Circle on Monument Avenue on Sept. 8.

The monument honors Virginians who fought against slavery, including Nat Turner and Dred Scott; and Virginians who fought for equality, including Lucy Simms and Rosa Dixon Bowser. Photo by Megan Lee

McClellan serves as the chair of the MLK Memorial Commission.

“This monument captures the triumph of emancipation and the hope of freedom emerging from the tragedy and trauma of slavery,” McClellan stated in an email. “I hope that every Virginian who looks upon the figures will feel their nobility, pain, and hope, and will be inspired to keep moving forward for freedom and equality.”

The MLK Memorial Commission chose the names at the base of the monument based on public feedback, from which 10 finalists were chosen. Among the names are Nat Turner, Lucy Simms and Dred Scott, according to the commission’s website.

Turner led the first successful slave revolt in Virginia in 1831, and Simms served as an educator at a segregated school in Harrisonburg, Virginia, until her death, according to the website

Scott was the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court case, Dred Scott v. Sandford, which led to the infamous decision that individuals of African descent were not considered United States citizens, according to the MLK Memorial Commission website

“Richmond and Virginia have come a long way,” Stoney said at the ceremony. “And while there is still much work left to do, we are moving in the right direction.”

More information on the monument and all the individuals commemorated can be found on the MLK Memorial Commission website.

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