The Statue of Liberty was supposed to be a monument to America’s freed slaves.

Here’s something you didn’t learn in US History: The Statue of Liberty has nothing to do with immigrants or (voluntary) immigration.

Ellis Island opened 6 years after Lady Liberty was erected and the “tired, poor” immigrant poem by Emma Lazarus came two decades later.

The Statue of Liberty was conceived as a gift to the US by Frenchman Édouard de Laboulaye (and a group of his French abolitionist friends) to celebrate the end of the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves. She originally held a torch in one hand and broken shackles in the other (the chains still made their way into the final piece — at the bottom where her feet are) because Laboulaye loved America, but he loved the country even more after slavery was abolished.

To raise funding for the massive project, Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi pitched the Statue of Liberty in the broadest of terms. What started as a gift to America specifically to commemorate the end of slavery became a token to the idea of “liberty” in general. Plus, by the time the Bartholdi finished Lady Liberty, Reconstruction was over, the progress of Black America had been violently crushed to a complete stop, and we especially didn’t want an enormous token to “freedom” dedicated to us in the country’s largest city. Black journalists and publications viewed the monument with disdain and the leading thinkers of the day rightfully turned away from the original intent behind the piece because the chains holding Black people hadn’t really disappeared at all.

She’s been a monument to immigration since.

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