My Statue of Liberty, Part II

This is the second of two poems based on a picture that I received.  See my post “Truth, Lies, Liberty, and The Two Ladies” for more.

 

They be talkin’ about a lady,

She got her hair done up in ‘rows,

But she hold her head up high

‘Cause there’s somethin’ that she knows…

 

They be talkin’ about a lady,

She stand up tall and straight.

The masters, they don’t like her none,

‘Cause she don’t know “her place”.

 

They be talkin’ about a lady,

She got a light up in her hand;

Black folks say it’s like a star

To lead ‘em up out of this land…

 

They be talkin’ about a lady,

She a friend to all us slaves:

She gonna get us out this misery,

We gonna see these end of days.

 

They be talkin’ about a lady,

She standing for us all:

For them who fight for freedom,

For those who gonna fall…

 

They be talkin’ about a lady,

She broke them shackles at her feet!

She hold ‘em high up in the air,

It be a sign of victory.

 

They be talkin’ about a lady,

She made of stone up on the slope;

They say her name be Liberty

And she here to give us hope.

COPYRIGHT 2012 © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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Truth, Lies, Liberty, and The Two Ladies

Ahhh…the Internet.

It is a wealth of…well, it’s a wealth of something, isn’t it?

Little bit of truth, a whole lot of lies, and it’s up to you to figure out which is which.

Actually, I’m fine with that.  I don’t mind doing a little legwork every now and then to ensure the validity of what I’m reading.  Truth be told, it’s a skill that many people do not have and really need to develop.

I bring it up because on the fourth of July, someone posted a fascinating picture to coincide with the celebration of our Independence Day.   It showed not one but two images of the Statue of Liberty, each very different from the other.

Of course, there is the one that we all know that sits in New York Harbor:  our lady in green who forever stands tall, holding her lighted torch as a beacon for those seeking liberty and freedom.   I have always been humbled by our lady and the vigil that she takes on, day in and day out, month after month, year after, decade after decade.  I think it’s impossible to look at the Statue of Liberty and not be awed not only by what she represents to us as a nation, but to the world.  So many people in countries around the world—even in this day and age—are seeking the single most important thing that we treasure and value and, dare I say, even take for granted:  freedom.

Yea, I think that if you have even the tiniest bit of patriotism in you, it’s hard not to be awestruck.

And yet…

On the fourth of July this year, someone shared an amazing photo with me that really gave me pause.  This aforementioned photo not only showed our Statue of Liberty, but a second statue in which the one that is now an emblem of our country’s freedom is based.

The thing about it, though, as that this one was based on a black woman.

As you can see, according to the captions on the pictures, this first lady of liberty was essentially created as a symbol of freedom and to mark the liberty of slaves into a free society.  However, the US rejected this version because…well, let’s face it.  It’s not like the US had a love relationship with black people at that time.

And as we all know, I’m putting that mildly.

I have to tell you, initially, I was astounded.  Outraged.  Livid. I couldn’t believe that there was ever a black Statue of Liberty and that it had been summarily rejected by the US.  Really?  How callous, was all I could think.  How insipid.  How could our nation been so heartless.  I mean, of course, I know the history of our nation and the stain of our slavery in our story, but still

I kept looking at the two images, so alike both in message, structure, and really, in theme, and yet, both so vastly different.  In my mind, I started to travel back, through time and space, through the ages, and suddenly, I imagined myself a black woman in the 19th century and I wondered, would our lady in green really have been a beacon of hope and promise for me?  Really?  What would she have known about my struggle for freedom?  For liberty?

It’s a valid question.  Where is liberty for those who live in a free country and don’t have it?  Where do you go to find freedom if the very people who profess to grant it deny it to you at every turn?

This is not a new question that I’m posing, however.  It’s ages old, and we fought a war over it.  Decades later, bills were signed into law to protect the rights and freedoms of every individual in our country.  For all practical purposes, the matter was settled years ago.

But…

For a moment, I was transported back in time, and I wondered, what would a black person have thought about this?  That there were two statues, one in the image of a woman who had been oppressed, and one in the image of the oppressor?  Where would their loyalties lie?

Because I am a writer, I did what comes naturally:  I wrote, and when I was done, I produced not one but two poems to address the questions that I’d been asking myself.   I thought they came out pretty good, if for no other reason than the fact that I answered my own questions.

But, because I’m a writer, I do want to share my work.  I want people to read and understand a perspective that I’m conveying, whatever that is, and this was no different.  As a result, I posted the poems onto a website that I use to get feedback for my work.  I guess I should have known better.

Someone eventually—I guess I should say inevitably—decided that although my verses were very good, I really should not harp on the ills of the past.  They were so long ago, and of course, no one would think of doing those things today.  They went so far as to point out that hey, we now have a black president, don’t we, so obviously these problems don’t exist.  We should move forward, this person said.

They were very polite in their email, but I could tell they were a little offended.  People don’t like to bring up those past ills.  But am I really harping on the past?  I’m all for moving forward, but the fact of the matter is, in this day and age, we still have problems granting our citizens the liberty they deserve.  Clearly, we don’t have anything as abhorrent as slavery within our midst or people being lynched, but every day, there are people who have to fight for the rights and liberties that were guaranteed to them in the Constitution.

Every single day.

If we say that we are a country that believes in liberty, than let’s grant that liberty to one and all, without condition.  Because when we refuse to recognize the rights and freedoms of any one group of people, for whatever reason, then we are not moving forward at all.  We are standing still.  We are stagnating.

Hell, we may even be moving backwards.  Is that what we want?

I’d like it very much if the lady that we know as our Statue of Liberty represented that ideal as fully as possible, for every citizen, without fail.

Now, before I sign off, I’d like to end as I begin.

About that Internet…

There’s a wealth of…well, something.  You only have to look and discern.

As far as the question of the “black” Statue of Liberty featured in the photo that was posted, I did some digging.

The statue does exist, however, it is not an “original” version created prior to the one that we have now.   It stands in St. Maarten, and the sculptor is an artist named Theodore Bonev.  He created the statue in order to commemorate the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean.  It was dedicated in 2007 to mark the 159th anniversary of the end of slavery.  However, it would appear that the questions about whether a black version of the statue where offered by the French and refused by the Americans may well be the stuff of legend. The National Park Service did a two-year study on just this very rumor, which mostly refutes the claims being circulated on the Web.

Of course, it could all just be a grand government conspiracy and cover-up, who knows?

If you have any questions about it, I’m sure you can look it up…on the Internet.

EMJ

Note:  I’ve posted the two poems as well:  My Statue of Liberty, Part I and My Statue of Liberty, Part II.  Each is posted under Verses.