This city park, part of Pierre C. L'Enfant's original plan, was renamed Lincoln Square in 1867 by an Act of Congress as an early memorial to President Abraham Lincoln. On April 14, 1876, the 11th anniversary of Lincoln's death, the Freedmen's Memorial Monument was unveiled. This monument features Lincoln symbolically freeing an African American man. It was created by white sculptor Thomas Ball. To cast the sculpture, newly freed African Americans raised the necessary funding, beginning with the first $5 ever earned by Charlotte Scott of Virginia. Alexander Archer, apparently the last person captured under the Fugitive Slave Act, was the model for the monument.

In 1974, almost a century after the Freedman's Memorial was completed, the Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial was unveiled here. Created by sculptor Robert Berks, it is the first statue depicting a noted African American in a Washington public park.

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