Are We Free?

Emancipation of the Slave, sculpted by Levi Scofield c. 1893 Image courtesy of Heidi Kathleen Elise Fearing

Emancipation of the Slave, sculpted by Levi Scofield c. 1893
Image courtesy of Heidi Kathleen Elise Fearing

 

Today I commented on a wonderful review of Cleveland by Erik Piepenburg, a senior editor at NYTimes.com, on Belt Magazine (www.beltmag.com) entitled,THE GAY GAMES WITHOUT A CAR: WHAT I SAW WHEN I RETURNED TO CLEVELAND.” It focused on seeing the city by foot and the RTA, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transportation Authority—bus and rail. The piece is full of restaurants, entertainment venues, and things to see, including the Arcade, Tower City Center, and Transformer Station artspace, and a short list of things that “get it right.”

One sight that is soon to receive a grand renovation is Public Square, home of the magnificent  Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Monument, the architectural centerpiece of the city, designed and sculpted by Levi Scofield, with the Goddess of Freedom figure holding a Shield of Liberty standing atop a 110-foot-high column, and four bronze sculptures outside at ground level—a cavalry grouping showing close-range fighting with pistols and sabers and a foundering horse; an infantry color guard with soldiers getting wounded; an artillery unit with a cannon and mortally wounded soldiers; and a Navy mortar group with an African American sailor helping load the mortar. Inside are the bas relief sculptures depicting “The Beginning of the War in Ohio,” “The Soldiers Aid Society” (women of the Sanitary Commission, Soldiers’ Aid society and hospital service), “The End of the War” (Lincoln meeting with the Union generals at City Point), and most important to me, “Emancipation of the Slave,” in which Lincoln is standing, breaking the chains of a kneeling slave, and handing him a rifle. The outside walls of the room are covered with names—the nine thousand residents of Cuyahoga County who fought to defend the Union and end slavery, seventeen hundred of whom died in the war. What could possibly be a more deserving source of pride to Clevelanders than this. The monument is also special to me as a setting for a scene in my novel: Here, protagonist and narrator Jeff and friend Lori, who are white, are touring the monument with friend Walter, who is African-American. Jeff reports,

“We open the doors and I feel it [the Spirit of Freedom] blowing past me like a wind. We close the doors behind us, let our eyes adjust to the glare, and sit.

“’And here we are,’ Walter says, ‘and the question is, a hundred years after emancipation, are we free?’”

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