Down with Some Art? A Lincoln Scholar on Confederate Statuary and Other Subjects

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Retired RI Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Williams helps us close out Presidents Month and Black History Month by weighing in on what should be done with problematic — especially Confederate — statues. Should they be pulled down? Stored in warehouses? The Chief votes nay.

Besides writing, speaking and teaching about Lincoln — and quoting him liberally in his court rulings — Chief Williams was a collector of Lincoln art and artifacts since childhood. He and his wife Virginia have donated some 30,000 items to Mississippi State University, choosing that repository in order to increase the store of knowledge in the South about Lincoln and the Civil War.

But he held onto a few favorites:

Clockwise from top left: “Hermes Bust” by Leonard Volk; “The Council of War” by John Rogers; “Lincoln the Railsplitter,” inscribed with “best wishes” to the Chief, by the artist,Norman Rockwell; “Lincoln” by Leroy Neiman

This bust, on the Chief’s desk in his Providence chambers, is also by Leonard Volk:

See items from The Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana, at Mississippi State University

This statue, by Thomas Ball, depicts a former slave kneeling before Lincoln, who holds the Emancipation Proclamation. It is controversial for seeming to show African Americans in a subordinate stance. Chief Williams says that’s a misreading of the artist’s intent.

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