The Freedman

John Quincy Adams Ward (1830–1910)

Object Details

  • 1863
  • Bronze
  • 19 3/4 X 14 1/4 X 10 1/2
  • 2000.15.A
  • Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Object Description

The Freedman directly addresses the issue of slavery. Unlike the conventional depictions of enslaved African Americans at this time, which typically showed them as powerless, this heroic figure has broken his chains. Ward probably began modeling the sculpture as President Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. The manacle in the figure’s right hand is engraved with a tribute to an extraordinary Civil War regiment—the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers, the first Union black regiment—many of whom died in battle at Fort Wagner in 1863. The handcuffs of this piece can be opened and closed with a key, serving as a powerful statement of the still unresolved issue of slavery at the time.

Educator Resources

Essential Questions

  • Why do artists create memorials?
  • How can an artwork help a community remember and/or honor an individual or group?
  • What historical events might prompt an artist to sculpt a memorial or monument?
  • What can an artwork tell us about an artist’s attitudes toward a historical event?
  • How have artists in the United States historically treated the subject of slavery in their artwork? How have they treated the subject of freedom?

Suggested Activities (5th to 8th grade)

In 1863 during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln created the Emancipation Proclamation, which was meant to free slaves in the South. John Quincy Adams Ward made this sculpture to honor and symbolize that event.  Students will imagine they are the artist and are writing to a newspaper about their new sculpture. Describe how the sculpture looks (be specific). How does it symbolize the Emancipation Proclamation? Why is this sculpture important?

Suggested Activities (9th to 12th grade)

Art historian Lewis I. Sharp called The Freedman “the sculptural manifestation of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.” Read the transcription of the Emancipation Proclamation while looking at The Freedman. Do you agree with Sharp’s view? Why or why not? Which part of the Emancipation Proclamation does The Freedman exemplify particularly well? Defend your response by providing visual and literary evidence.

Location: On View