RICHMOND, Va. - Alice Harris wasn't
sure at first that she wanted to participate in
Saturday's dedication ceremony of a controversial statue
of Abraham Lincoln in this former capital of the
Harris's grandmother and namesake, Alice Williams,
was a 25-year-old slave when Lincoln signed the
Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862. The Civil
War brought many conflicting emotions to the surface for
But her grandmother always placed a high value on
education and that's ultimately what convinced her.
When she helped unveil the statue before hundreds of
people here, she did so "to help this generation and
future generations to live together," said Harris, who
at 75 is a doctoral student.
The life-size bronze sculpture of Lincoln and his
son, Tad, commemorates a historic, but little-known
visit that the 16th president made to Richmond on April
The statue depicts a contemplative Lincoln sitting on
a bench with his arm around 12-year-old Tad. Behind the
figures, the words "to bind up a nation's wounds" - a
phrase from Lincoln's second Inaugural speech - are
inscribed on a plain granite wall.
Lincoln historians and elected officials hope the
statue will stand as a symbol of reconciliation and
healing. But protesters in Civil War costumes outside
the Richmond National Battlefield Park Civil War Visitor
Center view Lincoln as a conqueror whose likeness is a
reminder of death and destruction.
Lincoln visited Richmond just two days after Union
soldiers forced Confederate troops to abandon the city.
The city was still smoldering from the fires that
Confederates set to keep enemy forces from using their
Lincoln arrived unannounced and, with his son, walked
to the Confederate White House in what Lincoln scholars
say was symbolic of his desire to unite the war-torn
country. African-Americans rushed out to greet him, some
kneeling or touching his coat. But most white residents
greeted the president with stony silence, according to
the National Park Service text accompanying the statue.
And, it was clear Saturday, the passage of more than
a century has not softened some of those hard feelings.
“He was not here as a hero as the Park Service
contends. He was here as a conqueror. And because he was
here as a conqueror, that’s why it’s inappropriate,”
said Brag Bowling, 54, commander of the Virginia
division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who lives
“They said it’s part of healing. But see how little
healing it’s doing. It has caused a war here. The Park
Service should understand this is the former capitol of
the Confederacy,” Bowling said.
The statue is believed to be the first of Lincoln to
be placed in any of the 11 former Confederate states,
and it sparked Bowling to lead a protest at the nearby
gravesite of Jefferson Davis, leader of the Confederacy.
A total of about 150 protesters demonstrated at two
separate sites, many of them waving Confederate flags.
“It’s like putting a statue of (Gen. Robert E.) Lee
in Illinois, for God’s sake,” said Claudette Waddell,
65, of Plant City, Fla., who came up for today’s parade
in celebration of Confederate history.
But Lincoln scholars contend that the statue depicts
a side of Lincoln that deserves commemoration.
“I’m convinced that he came to Richmond not as a
divisive force, but as a healing force,” said Ronald C.
White Jr., author of “Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The
The unveiling of the statue Saturday was the
culmination of a 20-year dream for Robert Kline, a
native of Dixon, Ill., which has its own Lincoln statue.
Kline, chairman of the U.S. Historical Society, said,
“my roots told me we ought to have statue of Lincoln in
The sculptor, David Frech of New York, also has
Illinois roots. Frech grew up in the northwest Chicago
suburbs and said his grandfather had a strong admiration
Both Kline and Frech said they were surprised by the
furor that the statue has generated in some corners.
“I don’t think any of us had been prepared for the
controversy,” Frech said. “I grew up in the Midwest. I
had no idea these feelings still existed.”
The U.S. Historical Society is raising funds to pay
for the $250,000 statue by selling miniature bronze
copies at $875 apiece. But even that has generated
objections from opponents alleging violations of state
laws, which officials said later were disproven.
The statue is located at an old Civil War cannon
Cynthia MacLeod, of the National Park Service, said,
“Explaining history from a variety of angles makes it
not only more interesting, but also more true.”