Some heroes can inspire through their mere existence, rather than by what they do. They are symbols, infused with a people's highest aspirations and most cherishes ideals.
That describes our hero today: Lady Liberty, the 225-ton statue that stands watch over New York harbour. She has greeted generations upon generations of despised and unwanted who made the New World their destination and who helped to build the America that many still revere today.
While she's now mainly a tourist attraction, Lady Liberty's biography harkens back to another battle over human rights that consumed the US for much of its history.
The idea for such a monument originated in France, in 1865, with Edouard de Laboulaye, a French political intellectual and anti-slavery advocate. He proposed that France give a statue representing liberty to the United States for its centennial. The Union victory in the US Civil War reaffirmed the ideals of freedom that Lady Liberty represents, further helping Laboulaye make the case at home that France, too, aspire to become a democracy.
Another Frenchman, Auguste Bartholdi, created the sculpture, whose full name is "Liberty Enlightening the World." Yet another, whose name you will recognize from the famous tower that bears his name, designed the internal structure to support the massive work. Before starting work on the Paris landmark, Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel supervised the construction of the US-bound statue symbolizing freedom.
It took almost two decades that included many more people on both sides of the Atlantic ocean who undertook the fund-raising, designing, and construction of the generous gift. On October 28, 1886, the statue of "Liberty Enlightening the World" was unveiled.
But few people talk about the poem engraved on a bronze plaque affixed to the base of the statue...
The words by the poet Emma Lazarus are what distinguish Lady Liberty from other symbols of freedom. They give meaning to the statue: its verses express a nation's values, providing as close a thing to a national religion there ever was in the officially secular United States.
In 1883, Lazarus donated her poem, "The New Colossus," to a fund-raising auction for the construction of the statue's pedestal. Ten years later, the Immigrant Arrivals Station opened nearby Ellis Island, which stands just past the statue. Hence, Lady Liberty's association with the masses of refugees who fled Europe around the turn of the century. Nearly 14 million immigrants entered the United States through New York between 1886 and 1924. They were welcomed with these words:
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
As she observes the US government's now radical anti-immigrant stance from her perch in New York Harbor, Lady Liberty wonders if her message, which represents the very foundation of democratic values, was ever understood by @realdonaldtrump, @USAGSessions, and the members of today's @GOP. Indeed, we wonder how this so-called leadership came to forget them. That's why we claim Lady Liberty and all those involved in her creation as today's Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero.
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Who's your #HistoryHero?
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