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The Statue of Liberty

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
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Created: April 16, 2001
Latest update: August 31, 2001

And the Power of Denial in Dominance

The Statue of Liberty as an Black Woman

Trying out a new imaginary, inspired by Marvin Berlowitz' post on PEC. jeanne
Link here for a file or a print you can redo on your own.

Review Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, and Individual Contributors, April 2001.
"Fair Use" encouraged.

I would like you to check out the 50 worst books of the 20th Century. Bernal's book, Black Athena, is among them, according to this rightist perspective list. (Scroll down about an inch and a quarter to find the comment. And review Tim Wise's articles on White Denial and the School Shootings, and the Trouble with Tolerance.

On Sunday April 15, Marvin Berlowitz, University of Cincinnati, forwarded this message over the Peace and Education Commission List:

From: Marty Sapp

This is a MUST READ! Good day, It is hard to believe that after my many years of schooling (secondary and post) the following facts about the Statue of Liberty were never taught. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of people including myself have visited the Statue of Liberty over the years but yet I'm unable to find one person who knows the true history behind the Statue amazing.

Yes, amazing that so much important Black history (such as this) is hidden from us (Black and White). What makes this even worse is the fact that the current twist on history perpetuates and promotes white supremacy at the expense of Black Pride. During my visit to France I saw the original Statue of Liberty. However there was a difference, the statue in France is Black.

"Ya learn something new everyday!" The Statue of Liberty was originally a Black woman, but, as memory serves, it was because the model was Black. In a book called "The Journey of The Songhai People", according to Dr. Jim Haskins, a member of the National Education Advisory Committee of the Liberty-Ellis Island Committee, professor of English at the University of Florida, and prolific Black author, points out that what stimulated the original idea for that 151 foot statue in the harbor.

He says that the idea for the creation of the statue initially was the part that Black soldiers played in the ending of Black African Bondage in the United States. It was created in the mind of the French historian Edourd de Laboulaye, chairman of the French Antislavery Society, who, together with sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, proposed to the French government that the people of France present to the people of the United States through the American Abolitionist Society, the gift of a Statue of Liberty in recognition of the fact that Black soldiers won the Civil War in the United States. It was widely known then that it was Black soldiers who played the pivotal role in winning the war, and this gift would be a tribute to their prowess.

Suzanne Nakasian, director of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island Foundations' National Ethnic Campaign said that the Black Americans' direct connection to Lady Liberty is unknown to the majority of Americans, BLACK or WHITE. When the statue was presented to the US. Minister to France in 1884, it is said that he remonstrated that the dominant view of the broken shackles would be offensive to a U.S. South, because since the statue was a reminder of Blacks winning their freedom. It was a reminder to a beaten South of the ones who caused their defeat, their despised former captives.

Documents of Proof:

  1. You may go and see the original model of the Statue of Liberty, with the broken chains at her feet and in her left hand. Go to the Museum of the City of N.Y., Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street (212) 534-1672 or call the same number and dial ext.208 and speak to Peter Simmons and he can send you some documentation.
  2. Check with the N.Y. Times magazine, part II May 18, 1986.
  3. The dark original face of the Statue of Liberty can be seen in the N.Y. Post June 17, 1986, also the Post stated the reason for the broken chains at her feet.
  4. Finally, you may check with the French Mission or the French Embassy at the U.N or in Washington, D.C. and ask for some original French material on the Statue of Liberty, including the Bartholdi original model You can call in September (202) 944-6060 or 6400.

Please pass this information along! Knowledge is Power!

Discussion Questions

  1. Is there evidence of factual misinterpretations in history? Give an example.

    jeanne's notes on one plausible response
    One example of a factual misinterpretation of history is the treatment of the indigenous people when America was discovered by Europeans. Images of Color offers a solid explanation of the "noble savage" and the "maurauding savage," called to awareness according to the situational context. Link needs to be added.

    Another example is the misinterpretation of the extent to which diseases brought from the European context ravaged the indigenous people who had no immunity to them. Compare Darkness in El Dorado.

    Today, we recognize these patterns, and history begins to take them into account. But for many generations, the history we taught embodied those misinterpretations. And many, with unswerving faith in the dominant discourse version of history, are affronted by such re-interpretations, and refuse to hear them in good faith.


  2. Is the account of the origins of the Statue of Liberty presented above accurate?

    jeanne's notes on one plausible response
    Ah, the crux of the matter. Which version, that of dominant discourse, or re-interpretations going back to old documents and tracing alternative explanations? I cannot give you the answer. There may, in fact, be no answer. But to hear each validity claim in good faith assures us that we are not privileging our own cultural versions and intimidating those of the "Other."

    Remember that "good faith" hearing doesn't mean that you have to give equal weight to all versions of the many validity claims. "Good faith" hearing means that you must make a reasonable effort to understand what the "Other's" interpretation suggests about our differAnce. At the very least, Bernal's Black Athena brings to us an awareness that there are highly intelligent, well educated African Americans who feel the need seek alternative paths to understanding the development of "Western civilization." Maybe the ultimate issue isn't who's right or wrong, but which issues cause the most pain, the most harm, and how can that pain or harm be assuaged?

  3. Does it matter to follow through on the documentation, since our interest in the issue is broader than whether the report is "true" or "not true?"

    jeanne's notes on one plausible response
    One again, there is no single answer. It might be sufficient to recognize the importance of the issue to many, and to be aware that multiple re-interpretations are being developed. This is particularly so, since we have limited discretionary time and cannot actively follow ourselves all issues. Simply processing the information will make us alert to further developments as we come across them.

    But if social justice is an important issue for you, much could be learned by following through on the documentation. Several sources are given. Most are phone numbers in the East. If you wish to follow through on this as a comment or for your essay, you may use the phone in my office.

    Statue of Liberty as a Black Woman

    You may print it, or call up the file statuelib02.gif on Dear Habermas in the Paint Program that came with Windows. That's the program it was made in.