Is the Statue of Liberty Black?
The idea for the construction of the Statue of Liberty was born out of the colossal monuments of Africa. Indeed, her face itself may be African. First intended to rest at the gates of the Suez Canal, she instead came to stand in U.S. waters, most likely as a monument to the abolition of African slavery. Here is the quick, quick tale that will help answer the question: Is the Statue of Liberty Black?
In 1855 and 1856, French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi traveled to Egypt where he visited the pyramids and became enamored with the concept of colossal sculpture. In 1869, Bartholdi returned to Egypt to propose the construction of a giant neoclassical lighthouse at the entrance of the newly completed Suez Canal called Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia. The lighthouse would be in the form of a colossal draped figure of a woman holding a torch in her outstretched arm. His drawings and design included a striking face. The model was a local North African woman, most likely Arab and Muslim. Egypt declined the project citing expense and chose instead, The Port Said Lighthouse by Francois Coinget.
Meanwhile, in 1865, another opportunity had arisen for Bartholdi’s project. In the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation and assassination of Abraham Lincoln, prominent and important political thinker Edouard Rene de Laboulaye, president of the French Anti-Slavery Society and staunch supporter of the Union Army during the American Civil War, invited Bartholdi to dinner. He proposed the concept of a French and American monument to liberty on American soil. Given the timing of the conversation and Laboulaye’s life’s work, it is easily argued that Laboulaye intended the monument as a memorial to the end of slavery – to the liberty of the United States and all of its people.
So, in 1871, two years after Egypt rejected his project, Bartholdi fell back on Laboulaye’s plan and traveled to the United States where he, once again, pitched the idea of a colossal draped figure of a woman holding a torch. Entitled Liberty Enlightening the World, it would stand as a gift from the French to the Americans in honor of the centennial of American independence. While Bartholdi altered the robe to appear more Roman and added a tablet in her other arm, it is unclear whether he altered the face. Some opine that the face was modeled after his mother, though the Bartholdi museum states that there is no evidence to back this up.
Bartholdi’s project, Liberty Enlightening the World, was given the green light. Along with a duo of architects, including Gustav Eifel of Eifel Tower fame and famed American architect Richard Morris Hunt, Bartholdi set to the task of building his colossus. After years of work and fundraising throughout France, the monument to freedom known the world over as the Statue of Liberty was brought by ship to America where it was erected and dedicated in New York Harbor in 1886. While Lady Liberty now has a green patina, she is made of copper and her original brown hue resembled that of so many African women who appear to be born kissed by the sun.
In 1903, the Statue of Liberty was inscribed with the Emma Lazerus poem The New Colossus:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
For this and other reasons, the Statue of Liberty has come to be known more as a symbol welcoming oppressed immigrants from around the world and less for its origins as a symbol of freedom and emancipation on U.S. soil.
So the basic facts are these, conceived in Africa for Africa, she was not permitted to remain there but was brought instead by ship across the sea and, supported by abolitionists and her own two feet, now stands free as an American monument to liberty and justice, and while often misrepresented and misunderstood, she is a constant reminder of what was, what is and what can be.
So, is the Statue of Liberty black?
You tell me.