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Robert McNamara

Newspaper Sunday: Honoring Lincoln in Stone

By February 10, 2013

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After the death of Abraham Lincoln a number of sculptures of the fallen president were commissioned. Two of the most famous are the statue of Lincoln by Vinnie Ream, which stands in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, and the Emancipation Monument, in Lincoln Park, about ten blocks east of the Capitol building.

Vinnie Ream's statue has always been controversial. The young woman, who took up sculpting while working as a clerk in the Post Office Department in Washington, received the commission from Congress to create the sculpture in 1866. She was still a teenager.

Ream was given a basement studio in the Capitol, and worked for two years on her project.

The other monument has become more controversial over time as it depicts Lincoln, holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, standing over a kneeling slave whose shackles have been broken. A proposal to depict Lincoln with black troops of the Union Army, thus portraying African Americans taking an active role in emancipation, was rejected as being too expensive.

The money for the statue was raised from contributions of freed blacks. Yet the committee making the decisions was entirely white, and the sculptor, Thomas Ball, was white.

On the day the statue was unveiled by President Ulysses S. Grant, the former slave and noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave the dedication speech. Though Douglass may have considered the statue acceptable, over time it has fallen in favor, as an article in the Washington Post noted in April 2012.

This week in Newspaper Sunday, in honor of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, we look back at news coverage of those two statues.

Note: The links below lead to excerpts of articles. To see the entire front page of the newspaper, click on the "persistent link" on the excerpt page at the Chronicling America site of the Library of Congress.

Photograph: Sculptress Vinnie Ream with her bust of Lincoln/Library of Congress


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