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The Emancipation Memorial: Contested Memory, Historical Responsibility, and Their Convergence with Art — Part Two
Tuesday, September 12 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm$10.00 – $20.00
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Part Two: Race, Memory, Monuments, and Forgetting
(For Part One: The Monument: History, Controversy, Strategy, please visit here.)
An Exploratory Conversation in Two Parts presented in Collaboration with Mosaic Theatre Company’s Production of Monumental Travesties by Award-Winning Playwright Psalmayene 24
Presented under the auspices of the Benjamin Drummond Emancipation Celebration sponsored by National Capital Bank
In Part Two: Race, Memory, and Forgetting, Dr. Edna Greene Medford, former Chair of the Department of History at Howard University, will join Reginald Douglas and Psalmayene 24 for an in-depth conversation moderated by Jonquilyn Hill, host of The Weeds, Vox’s podcast for politics and policy. The conversation will explore the history of The Emancipation Memorial as a vital site for both commemoration and critique, and pose the question: What is the proper monument to liberation? Dr. Medford specializes in 19th century US history, with an emphasis on slavery. She is the author of the highly acclaimed history Lincoln and Emancipation.
On the morning after Lincoln’s death in 1865, sixty-year old Charlotte Scott, a former Virginia slave living in Ohio, donated five dollars to her employer and asked that it be used toward a monument for the president. A campaign among freed slaves raised $18,000 for the memorial. Frederick Douglass delivered the keynote speech at the monument’s dedication on April 14, 1876, which was attended by President Ulysses S. Grant and other political figures. The Emancipation Monument served as the primary national memorial to Lincoln until 1922, when the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in West Potomac Park. Critics condemn the Emancipation Memorial — which shows Lincoln holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation as an African American man in a loincloth kneels at his feet — as demeaning in its depiction of African Americans and as suggesting that enslaved people were not active contributors to the cause of their own freedom.
The words of Frederick Douglass aptly capture the controversy regarding the statue: “What I want to see before I die is a monument representing the Negro, not couchant on his knees like a four-footed animal, but erect on his feet like a man.” In the last few decades, scholars offered an alternative perspective to the “Great Emancipator” narrative. They mined primary source documents and argued that Black people engaged in the process of self-emancipation as they fled plantations throughout the South, embedding themselves with the Union army and taking every opportunity to claim freedom for themselves. Therefore, some critics suggest that not only is this a demeaning representation but a historically inaccurate one as well.
Abraham Lincoln’s head is missing. Chance, a Black performance artist, has surreptitiously removed it from the Emancipation Memorial—a Capitol Hill statue of Lincoln standing over a formerly enslaved man—and now it’s in his white liberal neighbor Adam’s shrubbery. This act of protest unleashes an absurdist chain of events when Adam knocks on Chance’s door, leading the two men and Chance’s wife, Brenda, down a path that questions how the symbols of our past impact our present. With sharp humor, hijinks, and a palpable love for DC, Helen Hayes Award-winning playwright Psalmayene 24’s searing new comedy explores race, memory, and the often privileged act of forgetting. The show runs September 7 to October 1. https://mosaictheater.org/plays/2023-2024-monumental-travesties
Hill Center patrons save 20% on tickets to “Monumental Travesties” at Mosaic Theater. Use code MTHILL. Offer available on Thursday and Friday performances. Limit of 4 tickets per order.
Historian Dr. Edna Greene Medford was Chairperson and Professor of History at Howard University, where she specialized in 19th century United States history, with an emphasis on slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction. Dr. Medford’s publications include: Lincoln and Emancipation (2015), The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views (co-authored with Harold Holzer and Frank Williams, 2006), and she is the editor of Historical Perspectives of the African Burial Ground: New York Blacks and the Diaspora, volume 3 of The New York African Burial Ground: Unearthing the African Presence in Colonial New York (2009).
Jonquilyn Hill is the host of The Weeds, Vox’s podcast for politics and policy discussions. Prior to joining Vox she was a senior producer for WAMU and NPR’s 1A, where she was a member of the team that helped launch the show and produced segments on everything from Cardi B to the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. While at WAMU she also created and hosted Through The Cracks, a podcast that examined the systems in place that led to the disappearance of 8-year-old Relisha Rudd from a DC homeless shelter. Prior to that, she worked on NPR’s 2016 Elections Desk, NY1, and NBC’s Washington bureau.
Psalmayene 24 is an award-winning playwright, director, and actor. Playwriting credits include Dear Mapel and Les Deux Noirs at Mosaic Theater Company, Free Jujube Brown! at The African Continuum Theatre Company, and Zomo the Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth at Imagination Stage.Directing credits include Native Son at Mosaic Theater, Flow and Pass Over at Studio Theatre, Necessary Sacrifices: A Radio Play at Ford’s Theatre, Word Becomes Flesh at Theater Alliance, Cinderella: The Remix at Imagination Stage, and Not Enuf Lifetimes at The Welders. His play, Les Deux Noirs, is published by TRW Plays. He is the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Playwright-in-Residence at Mosaic Theater.
Mosaic Theatre Company Artistic Director Reginald L. Douglas is dedicated to creating new work and supporting new voices. Reginald has developed and directed work by nationally-recognized writers including Dominique Morisseau, Suzan-Lori Parks, Cori Thomas, Angelica Chéri, Lynn Nottage, Nikkole Salter, among many others. A member of the Board of Directors of Theatre Washington and of the National New Play Network, Reginald received the National Theatre Conference’s Emerging Professional Award in 2020.
About the Benjamin Drummond Series: Now in its 8th year, Hill Center’s Benjamin Drummond series honors America’s first liberated enslaved people with scholarly and celebratory programs that bring together a diverse group of prominent experts, artists, and public figures throughout the year to explore the Civil War and its aftermath from the African American perspective. Named for the Old Naval Hospital’s first patient, a young African American seaman taken prisoner by Confederated ships, Benjamin Drummond Emancipation Day Celebration marks 161 years since President Abraham Lincoln signed The District of Columbia Emancipation Act, which freed DC’s over 3,000 enslaved people nearly nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation.
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