Slave statue controversy continues

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - 24-Hour News 8 first reported Tuesday about a fiery debate about art. Since then the controversy has grown even larger. The debate centers around a statue planned along the cultural trail.

The controversy concerns whether cultural trail leaders should update an image of a freed slave on Monument Circle or show a more modern image of African- Americans.

Asked after Tuesday night's meeting if he expected the vitriolic reaction to his work, world-renown artist Fred Wilson said, "No, I was blind-sided by this."

Still, Wilson believes the discussion generated by his proposed sculpture is both healthy and necessary. That's why he agreed to go on the Amos Brown talk show to continue the community conversation on Wednesday afternoon.

Most of the largely African-American callers supported Wilson's vision of erecting a sculpture of a freed slave on the southwest corner of the Indianapolis city-county building.

One female caller said, "We can't ignore our past and in fact, we should celebrate our past."

It's a past from which she says a strong people emerged. It's the image of strength that Wilson says he wants to portray. He plans to take the city's existing sculpture of a kneeling, subservient freed slave on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis and reposition it a bit, creating a new sculpture with the freed slave leaning forward while holding a flag blazing with colors of Africa — symbolic of the diaspora as well as his arduous journey from slavery to freedom.

But some callers said they believe a public street is not the place for the sculpture. One caller who survived an attempted lynching believes the image of a shirtless, shoeless freed slave brings back painful memories.

"If that goes up, I can't take it man," the caller, a Georgia native, said on the air.

Wilson, who is a 50-something African-American, says he understands. He believes his sculpture should be the beginning of the conversation on race and culture, not the end.

"This sculpture should be the catalyst for change," he said.

Leaders of the Indianapolis cultural trail plan a series of smaller public meetings. If you'd like to participate, you can call the Central Indiana Community Foundation at (317) 634-2423.

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