I guess you can see my shock and surprise in the interview when Florence Beauredon, a native of France, Pau in the south to be exact, stated unequivocally that the first, the original concept for the Statue of Liberty, was that of the depiction of a freed black female slave!
Now, I consider myself a student of history and have always believed it was essential to educate myself on historical facts that shape our present reality. I’ve read about a host of theories, legends, fables that have that dispute some historical fact – but I have never come across this piece of information – ever – in any of my readings. Of course I was more than a bit dubious and began to question her aggressively – but stopped. I decided to do my own research because I do know that American historians have never been really truthful about the sordid side of American history, especially in our schools, and prefer to paint a picture of a nation governed by the Bible, mom, and apple pie. I was also thinking, it seems I always learn more about the real American history from citizens of other countries, so I suspended my disbelief for a moment.
After reading several articles and essays on the subject, Flo was indeed correct. The original idea of the Statue of Liberty was to celebrate the emancipation of slaves by Lincoln during The American Civil War and to publicly protest the nascent imperial dictatorship led by self anointed emperor Louis Napoleon who took steps to re-establish slavery in France. The self crowned dictator even went so far as to finance the Southern traitors of the Confederate Army hoping for a victory that would facilitate his personal and political goals.
Now enter Edouard de Laboulaye, a French abolitionist who was very vocal and instrumental in ending slavery in France. He always admired Abraham Lincoln and championed abolishing slavery in the US. He took up arms again against the Emperor Napoleon and successfully stopped him sending money to the Confederate Army which also delayed the implementation , again, of slavery in France.
Upon Lincoln’s defeat of the Confederates and abolishing slavery, it was Laboulaye who gave artist/sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the idea for a statue called “Liberty Enlightening the World”.
Bartholdi’s original statue, Marianne, depicted a dark skinned Muslim woman with an Egyptian face, holding aloft and Egyptian lantern (symbolic of the French torch of freedom) and holding broken chains in her right hand. Bartholdi proposed the Black Marianne as a colossal lighthouse to commemorate the completion of the French-Egyptian Suez Canal.
When that didn’t fly with the French, Laboulaye suggested that Bartholdi repurpose the original Black Liberty as a very public celebration of Lincoln’s victory and his destruction of slavery. It would also serve to denounce the new dictatorial regime of Napoleon in France. Naming the new statue “Lady Liberty Enlightening the World” emphatically emphasized the anti-slavery, anti-tyranny themes at the heart and soul of her conception.
I guess after France’s rejection of a black faced statue (this is my conjecture, but easily understood) they decided to anglicise her. But, it was Laboulaye who suggested to take the chains from the Black Liberty’s hand and place them under the left foot of the now named “Statue of Liberty”.
The important takeaway from this moment in history, that I NEVER knew or even heard of this before, is that the original ‘Statue of Liberty” was morphed from the original dark skinned Lady Liberty created by a French artist and was intended to publicly celebrate Lincoln’s Civil War victory and the abolition of slavery and decry tyranny and dictatorship. The fact that I had to learn this from a European is even more upsetting. Particularly at a point in American culture where the ultra conservative right wing is desperately trying to whitewash, rewrite, and/or limit the amount of true American history being taught in public schools.
Placing the monument in the middle of the NYC harbour created the city’s first skyscraper. It was also the very first thing immigrants saw when they sailed into the New York harbor. It didn’t take long before the original purpose of the statue, the celebration of The Emancipation Proclamation, was forgotten and re-emerged as the symbol of liberty for the European masses immigrating to a new home.
I’m sure no one, including myself, ever thought about why those shackles are on the left foot of Lady Liberty. Now you know…
In the layout above, starting large picture left and clockwise:
1. The Black Lady Liberty on the island of St. Maarten (St. Martin) commemorating the abolition of slavery. This is NOT the original Bartholdi statue.
2. The Lady Liberty’s head and crown
3. The broken shackles celebrating the freeing of slaves in America. These were put there at the suggestion of Laboulaye so that people would remember the original message of black emancipation.