The Statue of Liberty, an American Symbol? Not Originally…

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Most people associate the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of American freedom that was meant to welcome immigrants to a land of opportunity.   In fact, the statue was originally inspired by large ancient Egyptian statues after Bartholdi, the original designer the statue, visited Egypt.  He had an idea to build a huge statue, and his motivation was fame and wealth.  The statue began as a fellah, or an Egyptian slave girl, and was to be called, “Egypt Enlightening the World.”

At the time, Egypt was building the Suez Canal, and Bartholdi thought he could sell the idea of a large lighthouse statue to be placed at the opening of the Suez at Port Said.  The canal took 10 years of forced labor, and many forced laborers died in the process of building it.  The British opposed the building of the canal because of the forced labor, and armed Beduins in Egypt, who started a revolt.  As a result, The Egyptian viceroy had to end involuntary labor.  The slave girl was supposed to symbolize the freedom he gave to the slaves, even though he never really eradicated slavery in Egypt. When Bartholdi proposed that his statue guard the Suez Canal, Egypt turned down the proposal due because it was too costly.

Bartholdi had to change his plans.  He and a French man named Labourlaye formed an organization and collected funds from private individuals rather than government funds, as most people incorrectly assume. Labourlaye was originally inspired by the freedom given to the African Americans after the civil war when he got involved in the project.  However, he later changed the idea to a general symbol of American freedom.  Bartholdi changed the plan for an Egyptian slave girl to a Greek goddess of Liberty.  The funds for the pedestal were collected with the help of Joseph Pulitzer, a publisher.  He decided to use an old sonnet written by a Jewish woman named Ms. Lazarus, who wrote about the bondage of her ancestors as the inscription on the bottom of the statue.  Because of the sonnet, people began to associate Lady Liberty with immigration to the US.

Bartholdi had to change his plans.  He and a French man named Labourlaye formed an organization and collected funds from private individuals rather than government funds, as most people incorrectly assume. Labourlaye was originally inspired by the freedom given to the African Americans after the civil war when he got involved in the project.  However, he later changed the idea to a general symbol of American freedom.  Bartholdi changed the plan for an Egyptian slave girl to a Greek goddess of Liberty.  The funds for the pedestal were collected with the help of Joseph Pulitzer, a publisher.  He decided to use an old sonnet written by a Jewish woman named Ms. Lazarus, who wrote about the bondage of her ancestors as the inscription on the bottom of the statue.  Because of the sonnet, people began to associate Lady Liberty with immigration to the US.

 

So Statue of Liberty is one that was built on inspirations of oppressed people from all over the world.  These people are the Beduins of Egypt, the African American slaves of America, the freedom of Jews, and the freedom sought by immigrants.  Americans should keep this in mind when attempting to define what makes America great.

Questions:

  1. Some people say that the Statue of Liberty was, “born Muslim.”  What do they mean by that?
  2. What is a fellah?  How was a fellah dressed? Why is a fellah assumed to be a Muslim?
  3. What was the original inspiration of the sonnet written on the statue’s base?
  4. What is the connection of the end of the Civil War in the US to the Statue of Liberty?
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