The History Lesson Sarah Palin Really Needs

Statue of LibertyIt was the spring of 2011 and Sarah Palin and her family were taking a road trip around the country. Dubbed the “One Nation” bus tour, the trip was reported to be a family vacation but with the accompanying entourage it may have been more about P.R. than anything else.

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.

As was expected, Palin provided plenty of opportunities for the media to put her lack of knowledge on display. Almost sure to get a gaffe, the media followed the trip and reported on it each day. If you were watching to catch a gaffe,  Sarah certainly delivered.

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, to paraphrase, Palin is saying that France gave the United States the statue as a warning to Americans not to make the mistakes that other countries had made.

But here’s the problem with that explanation – it is all WRONG. Historians tell us the Statue of Liberty was gifted to the United States to serve as a reminder of the importance of liberty, with special focus given to slavery (more on that in the paragraphs that follow).

In other words, the creator of the Statue of Liberty was doing the opposite of what Palin claims. Instead of reminding the United States not to make the mistakes other countries had made, the Statue of Liberty was intended to celebrate the correction of the biggest mistake the United States had made – the enslavement of millions of its own people. France wanted to acknowledge the end of slavery a monumental mistake made by the United States.

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 up with the idea of creating the statue in 1865 after having a conversation with friend Edouard de Laboulaye.  Edouard de Laboulaye was an abolitionist and ardent supporter of the Union in the American Civil War. 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

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Comments

  1. Ryder says

    On the topic of the Statue of Liberty, once again, I wonder if the issue has far more about the *assumptions* people make about what question she was answering.

    Do we *assume* that she was asked “What is the purpose behind the Statue of Liberty?” I don’t know what she was asked, but I will bet anyone big bucks that that is NOT what she was asked, and therefore to criticize her for failing to answer THAT question, makes no sense at all, since it was never asked of her. For those that actually bother to watch the video, we are given a clue….

    Palin says “… and that’s what I appreciate about the Statue of Liberty.”

    This clue suggests she was asked what she appreciated about the monument, not the intent of those that created it.

    She also said, in the video: “This is a symbol, a reminder, of what it is we can do right, in the name of freedom.”

    And yet, Sharon, you say Palin failed to recognize the true meaning: “The symbolism was intended to celebrate freedom and to also acknowledge a mistake the United States made and corrected”

    When she said it was a *reminder* of what it is we can do right… how do you know that she is not specifically referring to the end of slavery?

    What is amazing to me in all of this are the wild assumptions people are willing to make… not knowing the question (and therefore unanchored when trying to understand the answer)… leaving out important quotes like the one I reference.

    In short, I don’t think she was asked what the Statue means or was intended to mean, I think she was asked what she appreciated about it (it is a symbol that lives BEYOND the intentions of its creator), further I think that part of her answer might in fact be a specific reference to the end of slavery, but we can’t know. Her answers were precisely what one should expect from a politician… one that furthers their main political arguments, and lack specificity. They’re great at doing that.

    So once again, I think you have it wrong here… I think because you don’t understand the question.

  2. Ryder says

    Actually, Palin was NOT speaking of the famous ride. You have to listen to the question she was asked.

    She was asked a far more general question about what she was learning during her stay. Her comments were far more general then the “famous ride”, though included a reference to it.

    National Public Radio did a “fact check” of Palin’s comments on June 6th and asked Professor Robert Allison, chair of the history department at Suffolk University in Boston, to discuss her remarks.

    The interview (conducted by Melissa Block) concluded:

    BLOCK: So you think basically, on the whole, Sarah Palin got her history right.

    Prof. ALLISON: Well, yeah, she did. And remember, she is a politician. She’s not an historian.

    That NPR, unlike almost everyone else, had the integrity to FACT CHECK this, instead of assume that they already knew the answer, speaks well of them.

    At this point, I have no doubt that Palin knows FAR more about Revere and that time in our history than 99% of the rest of her countrymen, especially those that claim to know she was in the wrong.

    Palin, in just a few sentences, managed to provide a far clearer picture of what was happening than the storybook version that most people choose to believe, and think they know more than she does.

    My money is on Professor Robert Allison in Boston. Not anyone here.

    http://www.npr.org/2011/06/06/137011636/how-accurate-were-palins-comments-on-paul-revere

    To deride someone, without fact checking, is pretty dangerous. shame shame on those who have. Well done, NPR.

  3. Ruthless says

    The history lesson Sarah Pallin needs to know is that history repeats itself, and I look forward to seeing her go down in flames as she did with McCain. Some people never learn!

  4. Richard Packard says

    Hey Sharon,
    Once again you hit the nail on the head with this article. There is a passage that says, “the truth will set you free..” and I’m so glad that “I am free!” Its amazing the kind of information that Americans take in as factual or historical without really investigating the source or purpose of that information. It is also a testimony of a “dumb-downed” American population and a frightening preview of tomorrow’s America. As Dr. Joy DeGruy succinctly stated in her interview regarding the “broken chains” at the feet of the Statue of Liberty and what it represents (end of slavery in America), this intentionally hidden symbolism is reflective of the obvious continued denial of America of her shameful past and her subliminal desire to deny and hide African Americans from their history, contributions, successes and equal place in mainstream America. The first step to recovery is the acknowledgement of your problem and the desire to move ‘forward’ to healing and wholeness, America will “always” have a race problem because she refuses to acknowlege her role in “breaking the heart” of the African American community in critical mass.Until serious dialouge given to the issue of “race” in this country (something akin to what Nelson Mandela did in South Africa), we will never have peace and race will ultimately be the basis upon which all our decisions are based in every facet of American domestic and foreign policy.Unfortunately Sarah Palin represents that segment of America that is partially in denial, disillusioned, ignorant to historical facts and bigoted. What is equally unfortunate is most Americans appear to be “comfortable” with the status quo and moves along as if everything is peachy-keen.

  5. says

    I’m not too sure. Have you checked the current information on Frederic Bertholdi at wikipedia.org? I first checked during complaints about illegal migrants in a long running forum discussion, wishing to emphasize that the statue graces the harbor as a light to the world that all desire liberty. This figure very popularly first participated in the new calendar of the French Revolution when the names of the months were changed and fetes were inaugurated to familiarize the people with the new way of celebrating their revolution while dropping the old regime. I am sure that a model-size sample of the sculpture is still in some corner of Paris but I have forgotten exactly where? I don’t think , I would have known that, had I not arrived in Princeton in time for the BiCentennial of the French Revolution, at which time we had a seminar during the Easter Break and, while other people went home on Easter Break,we had guests from Paris, Robert Darnton was then currently a member of the teaching faculty and was a speaker for this special event, I am an avid reader of all his published work since then.

    I’ll confess, a few years earlier, our family cousin showed up when Manhattan was about to celebrate the arrival of the Big Ships in New York Harbor. DuPont came from Le Mans as a sculptor to repair the torch in Liberty’s hand before that summer festival began. I contacted his contractor, to leave a message so I could invite the sculptor to the Jersey Shore. He’d already found it with his confreres who regularly visted Seton Hall to court the girls as young Frenchmen do by tapping at the window of their dorms with bottles of the best French wine. He did however tell me his dream, the reason he had come to America. A few years ago, I stumbled upon an advertisement that indicated that he had in deed accomplished his goals of what he wanted to achieve when he came here,

  6. says

    Please let the “non-political” bus tour for two unemployed people and a child who should be in school, continue. There will be more gaffes and more “off script:” comments making it clear to voters that this woman should never be considered as a candidate for the President of the United States.

  7. Nate says

    AGREED ! . we must keep noting how incredibly stupid and dishonest the neo-cons are to prevent them from gaining control and dismantling our country piece by piece .

  8. says

    Dear Sharon,

    Even if you recognize that the story you tell won’t get the attention that Palin’s less significant flub about Paul Revere gets, and that nothing you or I can say or write will get anything like the attention she gets for sneezing, it’s important to do. Thanks for the reminder about the real meaning of liberty.

    Steve Hochstadt

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