The Emancipation Statue was paid for in its entirety by former slaves and dedicated on April 14, 1876. A controversial design both today and at the time it was created, the statue appears to suggest that Lincoln's actions alone led to the freedom of former slaves. This design was selected as a result of the potential expense of the original design, which would have featured multiple statues of African Americans pursuing their own freedom in the antebellum period and throughout the Civil War. Owing to the costs of this more elaborate monument, and the fact that a statue featuring escaping slaves and black soldiers would have likely angered white Southerners, the organizers settled upon this design which features Archer Alexander, the last person captured under the Fugitive Slave Act, kneeling before the former President as his chains are broken. 25,000 people attended the dedication ceremony which featured remarks by Frederick Douglass. Among the crowd were members of Congress, former slaves, and President Ulysses S. Grant.
Frederick Douglass delivered the dedication speech which celebrated both Lincoln and the advances made by African Americans since the Civil War. His speech had only mild criticism for the design, which “showed the Negro on his knee when a more manly attitude would have been indicative of freedom.” African Americans such as Henry Highland Garnet who began the movement to raise funds for the monument hoped to place Lincoln and the end of slavery within an interpretive monument that included sculptures of African Americans resisting enslavement through military service and other means. Harriet Hosmer, a sculptor of great fame at that period, suggested that the figure of the slave should be clutching a rifle.