The History Lesson Sarah Palin Really Needs

Statue of LibertySarah and the Statue of Liberty

In the spring of 2011 Sarah Palin, her family, and her entourage took a road trip around the country. Dubbed the “One Nation” bus tour, the trip appeared to be part family vacation and part political tour but Palin insisted it was not part of a political campaign.

As expected, the media had a front row seat – all along the way, following Palin and serving up Sarah’s pearls of wisdom on cable and nightly news. There seemed to be a camera and a microphone at the ready, every time the bus door opened.

There also seemed to be no end to her willingness to put her lack of knowledge on display. But apparently there is a market for all things “Sarah” — which explains the media’s behavior. They cover her, the public eats it up, they make money, she makes money. No harm, no foul.

Well, not quite.

One of Palin’s gaffes, made while she was touring Paul Revere’s home in Boston, got a lot of attention. Another, made while she was at Bedloe’s Island, home of the Statue of Liberty, didn’t get as much. This attention disparity is the point of this article. But before I get to that point, let’s talk a little about the two flubs.

If you missed the Boston gaffe, speaking of Paul Revere’s famed midnight ride, Palin said:

He warned the British that they weren’t going be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells, and making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed.

The media went abuzz when those words tumbled out of her mouth. Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, and others  picked up on her comments and got a lot of laughs. Deservedly so. It was easy to get mileage out of this inaccurate, barely coherent, word salad. Anyone with a sixth grade education could immediately identify the problem(s) with her statement.

But what about the other gaffe -  the one Palin made in explaining the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty. Why didn’t that one grab the attention of Maher and company? Could it be that the flaw in that flub wasn’t as easily recognizable? I don’t know. Perhaps you can be the judge. Let’s take a look at what Palin said and compare her statement to documented history.

When asked about the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty, Palin said,

It is, of course, the symbol for Americans to be reminded of other countries because this was gifted us, of course by the French—other countries warning us to never make the mistakes that some of them had made.

Okay, so Palin is saying that France gave us the statue to warn us not to make the mistakes they made.  But contrary to Sarah Palin’s characterization, historians say the Statue of Liberty was meant to serve an entirely different purpose.

It was given to us to serve as a reminder of the importance of liberty, particularly with respect to slavery.

In other words, the creator of the Statue of Liberty was doing the opposite of what Palin claims. The symbolism was intended to celebrate freedom and to acknowledge the end of slavery a monumental mistake the United States made.

The Statue of Liberty was the brainchild of noted Frenchmen Edouard de Laboulaye. It is well documented that Frederic Bartholdi, the French sculptor who designed the Statue, came upon the idea of the statue in 1865 after having a conversation with friend Edouard de Laboulaye.  Edouard de Laboulaye was an ardent supporter of the Union in the American Civil War and a devoted abolitionist. In her book, “Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty

“, author and historian Yasmin Sabina Khan writes that Laboulaye was the president of the French Emancipation Committee, an organization that sought to aid newly freed, impoverished slaves in the United States. Laboulye and his wife Micheline worked to raise funds and provide necessities to freed slaves. And Laboulaye was an ardent antislavery speaker. Speaking at an international antislavery conference in Paris in 1867, Khan writes, “Laboulaye’s opening speech transformed the meeting into ‘one of those feasts of liberty which move the souls of men to their deepest depths, and gives one new hopes of humanity,’ recounted the New York Times Paris correspondent.”

Although Laboulaye came upon the idea and communicated it to Bartholdi in 1865,  the political climate in France at the time and a lack of funding made it impossible to raise enough funds to get the project off the ground for several years. Bartholdi’s original rendering had Lady Liberty holding broken chains in her left hand, with more broken chains at her feet. Both of these were symbolic of the end of slavery in the United States.

Noted author and lecturer, Dr. Joy DeGruy, frequently addresses the chains in the original renderings of the Statue of Liberty in her speaking tours and interviews. DeGruy says that when the renderings were disclosed to the American decision makers of the day, the French designer was rebuffed. The Americans insisted that he remove the chains. Bartholdi was adamant that the chains remain although he eventually was forced to compromise — removing the chains from Lady Liberty’s hand but leaving the chains at her feet along with broken shackles, where they remain today.

sharon kyleInterviewed on the cable show “Like It Is”, DeGruy explained where the chains are and how they can be seen today.  It is no longer surprising to hear that Sarah Palin doesn’t have the facts but what is more unfortunate is that this story isn’t told as often as the story of Paul Revere’s midnight ride. The shameful history and legacy of slavery, to this day, is not given the attention it deserves else Maher, Colbert, and company could have had a field day with this.

If only DeGruy could get one tenth the media coverage Palin gets. In the video below, she addresses the chains on the Statue of Liberty at 40 seconds into the recording. She’s a great storyteller and author. Here is a link to her website. Enjoy the video (below) and please pass this along to your friends and family.

Sharon Kyle
Publisher, LA Progressive

Published by the LA Progressive on June 8, 2011
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About Sharon Kyle

Sharon Kyle, J.D. is the Publisher of the LA Progressive which she co-founded with her husband Dick Price. Ms. Kyle is an adjunct professor of law at Peoples College in Los Angeles. She sits on the board of the ACLU Pasadena/Foothills Chapter and is on the editorial board of the Photo courtesy Wadeva Images.