Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Broken Chains and Shackles On The Statue Of Liberty

The Statue’s shackles and feet.

In 1886, The Statue of Liberty was a symbol of democratic government and Enlightenment ideals as well as a celebration of the Union's victory in the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. Edouard de Laboulaye, the French political thinker, U.S. Constitution expert, and abolitionist, who first proposed the idea of a great monument as a gift from France to the United States was a firm supporter of President Abraham Lincoln and his fight for abolition. Laboulaye saw abolition not only as a way to eliminate immorality, but also as a way to protest repressive tendencies in France.

As an abolitionist, Laboulaye was an honorary member of the Philadelphia branch (founded in 1862) of the Union League Club. The Union league Club was a group of people who were dedicated to the new Republican Party, the Union's cause in the Civil War, and the abolition of slavery. Additionally, Laboulaye was a cofounder and president of the French Anti-Slavery Society. This society was founded in 1865. In essence, it called upon all nations to abolish slavery. Additionally, the members also raised money that was then given to newly freed slaves in the United States.

Invisible to tourists, the Statue of Liberty's 25-foot-long (7.6-meter-long) left foot, pictured in 1984, brushes against a little-known detail that nevertheless loomed large in sculptor Frederic Bartholdi's design. Broken chains beneath the statue's toga symbolize freedom from oppression in general and the United States' abolition of slavery—just 20 years prior to the statue's dedication—in particular. (Historic American Engineering Record, Library of Congress)

The Statue’s shackles and feet.

With the abolition of slavery and the Union's victory in the Civil War in 1865, Laboulaye's wishes of freedom and democracy were turning into a reality in the United States. In order to honor these achievements, Laboulaye proposed that a gift be built for the United States on behalf of France. Laboulaye hoped that by calling attention to the recent achievements of the United States, the French people would be inspired to call for their own democracy in the face of a repressive monarchy.

When Laboulaye's Statue of "Liberty Enlightening the World" was completed, it not only represented democracy but also symbolized American independence and the end of all types of servitude and oppression. A broken shackle and chain lie at the Statue's right foot. The chain disappears beneath the draperies, only to reappear in front of her left foot, its end link broken. However, although the broken shackle is a powerful image, the meaning behind it was not yet a reality for African Americans in 1886; it would not be for at least another 100 years.

This image from Puck Magazine, September 9, 1908, utilizes the likeness of the Statue of Liberty to convey the horrors African Americans experienced after the Civil War.
This image from Puck Magazine, September 9, 1908, utilizes the likeness of the Statue of Liberty to convey the horrors African Americans experienced after the Civil War.

After the Statue's dedication in 1886, the Black Press began to debunk romantic notions of the Statue of Liberty and American History. Racism and discrimination towards African Americans did not end after the Civil War or with the dedication of the Statue - it continued on for more than a century. As a result, the Statue was not a symbol of democratic government or Enlightenment ideals for African Americans but rather a source of pain. Instead of representing freedom and justice for all, the Statue emphasized the bitter ironies of America's professed identity as a just and free society for all people regardless of race. From the time of the Statue's dedication, attitudes towards the Statue in the African American community were ambivalent and uncertain.

As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in his autobiography, The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life From the Last Decade of Its First Century, he was unable to imagine the same sense of hope he assumed some immigrant arrivals had felt when he sailed past the Statue on a return trip from Europe. This hope did not pertain to his race. The fight for equality, liberty, and justice for all at this point in time had not been achieved, but rather disregarded after the Statue's completion and dedication. Therefore, African Americans rarely used the Statue as a relevant symbol for their struggle - they were reluctant to embrace the symbol of a nation which would not fully include them as citizens. The Statue of Liberty did not help them to gain equality and justice in the truest sense - it was only the beginning. (source: National Park Service)


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  14. Lies all lies!!!!! You forgot to mention how when this statue was created that it was an original one before it. The original statue of liberty is a black woman sent and made in france (google the original statue). The chains are to represent freedom and originally there were broken chains in her left hand and at her left foot. Please tell the truth about our REAL LADY LIBERTY. And what it really represents. The fake one is a cover up.

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  16. Good read! Must agree on the original Lady Liberty, white america didn't even want the chains anywhere on the statue, they refused to take them off and left them where they could, where the US would be content; and ofcourse thats where no one can see it, by her feet. I almost believe a very BIG percent of Americans don't even know the statue contains a broken chain, and of course were no taught that at school either. Ofcourse we know she has a crown and is holding a torch along with a tablet, but chains??? White America always TRIES to hide it's HORRIFIC history!

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    1. That is an urban myth. Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the artist who designed the Statue of Liberty, used the face of his mother. As much as I'd like to give black credit where it is due, the face of his mother seems more plausible. Most sculptors use real-life three dimensional people to sculpt. Rarely, does one get a truly good or great sculpture of a human being, without a human subject. All of the research that I've read, points to the face of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi's mother as his inspirational muse. After all her womb gave birth to the visionary artist, why not her face as the face of liberty?

      Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

  22. That's a damn lie.....


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