January 9, 2014

OURStory: Black Statue of Liberty

People around the world are aware of the Statue of Liberty. It is a sight seen by many immigrant families as they sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to come to the shores of the United States.

Few people know that the original Statue of Liberty was a Black Slave in shackles!

Soulclap to Jamia Shephard and Dr. Angela Molette for bringing OURStory (not "his"-story) to our attention. Dr. Molette points out that French Abolitionists (anti-slavery proponents and supporters of John Brown) were among the monument’s creators ... and this was the most compelling and overriding reason for creating the statue as a Black slave in shackles. The idea for the Statue of Liberty was born of a shared historical connection between Egypt (the original intended recipient of the Statue) and African slaves in America for whom the tribute to liberty and freedom was delivered.

It is worth noting that the final product delivered to America had significant changes that can be attributed to white privilege, arrogance, jealousy and financial pressure. This little-known history is discussed in an entry on the original Statue of Liberty documented by Dr. Leroy Vaughn in his book, 'Black People & Their Place in World History'.

The excerpt reads:
"In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte stated that history was only 'a lie agreed upon.' Nothing could be more illustrative than the history of the Statue of Liberty originally called 'Liberty Enlightening the World.' The liberation of African American slaves was the only inspiration for the creation of a Statue of Liberation for Edouard Rene LeFebvre DeLaboulaye. He recruited a young sculptor, Frederick Auguste Bartholdi to create a Black female slave Statue holding a broken chain in her left hand and with broken chains of slavery at her feet.
The official web site of the Statue of Liberty states that the statue was given to the people of the United States by the people of France as an expression of friendship and to commemorate the centennial of American Independence (1776). The Encyclopedia Britannica states Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty as a monument to the Franco-American alliance of 1778.

These are absolute and total lies!

Edouard DeLaboulaye
Edouard Rene LeFebvre DeLaboulaye, an internationally renowned lawyer and author of a three-volume history of the United States, first discussed the idea of a symbol to represent the end of U.S. Slavery at a dinner party in 1865, at his country home near Versailles, France. In attendance at the dinner party were many abolitionists including Victor Hugo and Frederick Auguste Bartholdi, who had initially been retained to create a sculptured bust of Mr. DeLaboulaye.

Victor Hugo and Edouard DeLaboulaye were leaders of the French Abolitionist movement. They hated slavery and were in strong support of John Brown when he attempted to arm slaves in West Virginia for rebellion by raiding the armory at Harpers Ferry in 1859. After John Brown failed and was hanged, Hugo and DeLaboulaye took up a collection among the French people and presented a gold metal to John Brown’s widow.

After Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States in 1861, the French liberals and abolitionists including Hugo, Bartholdi, and DeLaboulaye urged Lincoln to free the slaves even if Civil war resulted. Lincoln was told: “You would become the first country in history to have fought a war against itself to free the internal slave and you would go down in history as a truly great country and a beacon of light to all freedom loving people.”

The French abolitionists saw the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 as a worthless piece of paper since it only freed slaves in the Confederate controlled states where Lincoln had no jurisdiction and not in Union controlled states where Lincoln was still in authority.

When the war ended in 1865, French abolitionists were extremely happy and in addition to again urging Lincoln to free all slaves, DeLaboulaye and Bartholdi requested permission to build and dedicate a monument of colossal statuary to that freeing of all slaves in America. When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, DeLaboulaye again headed the abolitionists’ committee that presented a gold medal to Mrs. Lincoln, just as he had done for the widow of John Brown.

In addition to a staunch abolitionist, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) was an outstanding French sculptor. Bartholdi trained to be an architect in Alsace and Paris and then studied painting with Ary Scheffer and sculpture with J.F. Soitoux. Bartholdi’s life and ideas changed dramatically after 1855 when he toured Egypt and witnessed the magnificent colossal monuments and statues created by the ancient Black Egyptians.

Bartholdi’s creation of a giant Black ex-slave female with broken chains at her feet and left hand was readily accepted in France. Although liberals, freemasons, and businessmen with American interests were the most enthusiastic supporters of the project, by 1881 some 100,000 people and 181 towns throughout France had contributed money.

In 1871, Frederic Bartholdi at the urging of DeLaboulaye undertook a voyage to America to sell his idea of a colossal statue clearly symbolizing the end of chattel slavery in the United States. He was armed with a large terracotta statue and numerous drawings to clearly illustrate his proposed Statue of Liberty. The original African face of the Statue of Liberty was published in The New York Post dated June 17, 1986 as part of the centennial celebration. Bartholdi found little American support for his African slave model. In 1878, as the African head of Miss Liberty first went on display at the Universal Exposition in Paris, France, rampant reaction raged throughout the American South.

Bartholdi finally had to abandon his original ideas and changed the Statue of Liberty to the features we are now familiar with. The African face was re-sculptured into the face of his mother Madame Bartholdi. A tablet of law tucked into her folded arm that bears the date July 4, 1776, replaced the broken chains in the slave’s left hand. Ironically, the chains were left at the feet but the meaning changed from broken American slavery to broken English tyranny.

On May 18, 1986 during the centennial celebration, The New York Times joined The New York Post in describing the original Statue of Liberty and the intention of DeLaboulaye and Bartholdi in presenting this statue to America. It’s unconscionable that the Encyclopedia Britannica and the official Statue of Liberty literature can still lie and say that this is a monument celebrating American Independence of 1776 or Franco-American alliance of 1778. Dr. Jack Felder sums it up clearly:
"Once in place, Miss Liberty received a new meaning. She was hailed as the ‘Mother of White Exiles,’ greeting European immigrants seeking freedom in America. Nothing in the original conceptions of Bartholdi or DeLaboulaye envisioned this role for their stature."
I hope that you think about this blog post next time you see the Statue of Liberty.
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Miriam said...

This is such an amazing thing. I wish my mouth was bigger/my voice stronger that I may spread this important news.

Unknown said...

Miriam - I am grateful to you for visiting my blog and sharing your comment. I hope that 'villagers' will take a moment to check out your blog, Black Fire, White Fire as well.

Miriam said...

Hey thanks, Villager!

nigus said...

Moses Lazarus a Sephardic Jew, (the father of the poet Emma Lazarus who wrote on the Statue of Liberty “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) was a sugar trade, plantation and slave holding magnate in Louisiana before the Civil War! Read: Emma Lazarus in Her World: Life and Letters By Bette Roth Young

Unknown said...

Nigus - I guess that Moses proves that hypocrisy has been around for a long, long time!

Carolyn Moon said...

Talk about a historic gem. I will certainly view the Statue of Liberty quite differently. Thanks to Villager for sharing this.

Daij said...

I did not know this. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

Carolyn and Dajj - I'm glad that you both appreciated the information. It is important that we share OURstory on a daily basis, not just in the month of February.

Finch said...

A guy in the UK exhibited a short video about this last year and there is a version on youtube:


Unknown said...

Finch - I hadn't seen that YouTube video. Thank you for sharing. Any video with Billie Holliday music is a sure-fire winner!

Unknown said...

This is good new that most or myself did not know