When looking at the Statue of Liberty, the first thing many view it as is a celebration of America. Specifically a celebration of America being a country of immigrants. This connection is apparent in the statue's plaque donning the famous Emma Lazarus poem "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." However, the plaque was added in 1903 and pushed attention away from the original purpose of the statue: to push Americans to recognize the importance of liberating slaves.
Known as the "Father of the Statue of Liberty," Édouard de Laboulaye first imagined the concept of the Statue of Liberty. Born in 19th century France, Laboulaye was a known political thinker and abolitionist who spent a large portion of his career pushing for democracy in France. After the Civil War Laboulaye viewed America as the standard that countries should look up to in terms of freedom and democracy. Laboulaye stood as the President of the French Anti-Slavery Society, a committee that raised funds for newly freed slaves, and strongly praised America's passage of the 13th Amendment, acting to abolish slavery.
In the summer of 1865 at his home in Versailles, Laboulaye organized a meeting of French abolitionists with the idea of creating a gift for America to "recognize the importance of the liberation of the slaves." French Sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, helped Laboulaye bring this idea to life creating various models and concepts that soon became the statue we know today. An early model created shows the statue holding the familiar torch in her right hand with the other hand holding broken chains, a symbol for the abolishment of slavery. Today, instead of holding the shackles Lady Liberty is seen holding a tablet inscribed with the date July 4, 1776 to commemorate the Declaration of Independence. However, around her ankles the broken shackles are still present, just not as visible unless one looks closely.
The Statue's shackles and feet.https://www.nps.gov/stli/learn/historyculture/abol...
This small feature at the bottom of Lady Liberty's feet that very few even notice reveals the true story of a national landmark that only few acknowledge. The original meaning behind the statue began to fade as Laboulaye pursued funding for the monument. In an effort to raise funds Laboulaye presented the project in extremely broad terms in order to widen the amount of potential donors. He also added the torch in her right hand to push donors to open their wallets.
Today, the statue's original purpose of celebrating slaves has been largely forgotten and the statue is instead seen as a celebration of immigration. Mainly because of its position on Ellis Island, America's busiest immigrant inspection station. Since Lady Liberty was the first thing many immigrants saw as they entered America, many viewed the statue as a beacon of hope and symbol of freedom.
While many European immigrants turned to the statue as a symbol of hope, Black civil rights activist and scholar WEB Du Bois wrote in his autobiography that as he sailed past Lady Liberty on his return home from Europe, he had a hard time feeling the this same sense of hope since he did not have access to the freedoms she promised.
Racial equality and justice in America has still not been achieved and the battle continues today as demonstrated in the poverty, unemployment and incarceration rates of Black Americans. The struggle Black Americans has largely been neglected and disguised throughout American history and more than ever it our responsibility as American to educate ourselves and recognize the history of our nation.
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