Lady of Liberty, Theodore Bonev, Island of Saint Martin, 2007
The above image was part of an Internet hoax that went around a few years ago. The statue was supposed to be the original model for the statue of liberty. It was said to be rejected by a racist U.S. government. It was also said that the original statue had been created to honor black Civil War soldiers. There was even a testimonial. Written by an unknown writer. It went something like this:
It’s hard to believe that after my many years of schooling (secondary and post) the following facts about the Statue of Liberty was never taught. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of people have visited the Statue of Liberty over the years yet very few know the true history behind the Statue – amazing. Yes, amazing that so much important black history (such as this) is hidden from us. 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.
They argue further….The original Statue of Liberty in France is black. The Statue of Liberty was originally a black woman. The actual model that posed for the statue was also a black woman. The statue was a gift from France to America to celebrate the role black soldiers played in winning the Civil War. These are facts…. Well, these “facts” are in dispute.
According to “leading” historians:
There is no “original model” of the statue, sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi’s design evolved through many changes before taking its final form. At first the “lady” held a broken chain in her left hand to symbolize breaking the chains of bondage. Instead, the artist later decided that a fragment of broken chain should be at her feet.
This was not changed, as some have suggested, to avoid offending a defeated South, but to allow her to hold the tablet in her hand inscribed with the date of the Declaration of Independence. This was a purely aesthetic choice.
It is true that the original face of the statue was dark in color. However the material underneath the familiar green finish is copper, which is a dark metal. Due to exposure to the elements the statue’s head soon turned pitch black. So that explains the picture published in the NY Post in 1896 showing the statue with a black face.
Bartholdi used two models for the sculpture. One was his mistress and future wife. The other was his very own mother. Neither of these women were black. The “lady” has the face of Bartholdi’s mother and the torso of his wife.
Facts that are not denied by historians:
It’s true.The end of slavery in America led to creation of the statue. The irony of giving the U.S. a monument to the spirit of freedom was not lost on the French. They had abolished slavery earlier in the century. The change in status of African Americans did increase support for the statue in France.
The French historian Edouard de Laboulaye originally proposed the monument. He was a leader of the anti-slavery movement in his country. And Frederic Bartholdi himself was part of the anti-slavery cause. Bartholdi’s design models for the Statue of Liberty evolved from earlier sketches. The models for these sketches were black Egyptian women.
Lady of Liberty, My own conclusions:
Let’s look at the facts. It’s not so hard to believe that two anti-slavery advocates would create a black Statue of Liberty. One had a passion to see Black slaves in America freed. The other was an artist who was greatly inspired by Egypt.
I also have no trouble with the idea of an African version of the statue being rejected by a racist 19th century America. And revised to look more European. There were probably several versions of the statue. Each one further away from the original intent of the artist.
This falls in line with the fact that artists very seldom get to do what they want to do with a public statue. Finally, the result was a figure that looks Roman or Greek. And less associated with the freedom of slaves. But, instead reflecting ideals of democracy in general.
As for the statue’s color, Bartholdi might have intended the face to stay black. But he was not familiar with the climate of New York Harbor. He may have assumed the finish would stay dark.
My purpose here is not to let you down. I don’t want to pour water on your desire to uncover some little known African American history. I just want to get at the truth. Recognition of our rich cultural heritage is always good. It’s a shame that some would deny us that. I hope one day we learn the real truth about this. As we both know, the truth can set you free.
By the way, the Lady of Liberty statue above was made to honor of the victims of slavery. It celebrates the 159th anniversary of the end of slavery on the island of Saint Martin.