By Edward Epstein
Friday, September 15, 2023
Charlotte Scott, the freed slave whose hard-earned $5 contribution kicked off the fundraising that led to the erection of Washington's Emancipation Memorial in 1876, visited with the Lincoln Group on Tuesday evening, telling her audience how deeply she admired Lincoln and how honored she was to champion the effort among her fellow ex-slaves to put up the statue that today has become so controversial.
Scott was actually Marcia Cole (pictured at left), an educator and poet who re-enacts Scott, in period costume. Cole is a champion of keeping the Emancipation Memorial where it is, in D.C.'s Lincoln Park, not far from the U.S. Capitol. Others want the statue removed. It depicts Lincoln holding the Emancipation Proclamation in his right hand, with his left hand over a black man who appears to be kneeling or rising.
Critics say the statue is degrading to the ill-clothed black man while supporters like Cole say the statue, which was paid for exclusively by contributions from Freedmen, shows the figure rising toward freedom and reflects that generation of black Americans' affection for Lincoln.
"Yes, he was a friend of the Negro, and history remembers me as a friend of Lincoln," Cole said, while portraying Scott. "If you have a friend who will stand up for you, stand up for them."
Scott was born into slavery on the Scott Plantation near Lynchburg, Virginia. During the Civil War she ended up in Ohio, where she earned small wages as a seamstress. After she learned of Lincoln's assassination she gave $5 of her earnings to start the campaign to build the memorial, which is also known as the Freedmen's Memorial.
It was dedicated on April 14, 1876, 11 years to the day after Lincoln was shot. Featured speakers included Frederick Douglass. President Ulysses S. Grant unveiled the memorial before a crowd estimated at 25,000, many of them black Americans.
"You should have seen the crowd. Colored people were everywhere and when they announced I was there, you should have heard the cheers," Cole, as Scott, recounted.
Only two names are on the plaque of the Emancipation Memorial -- Abraham Lincoln and Charlotte Scott.
To learn more about the memorial and Scott, Cole invites people to visit emancipationmonument.org.
(Photo credit: Edward Epstein)