7.1 The Statue of Liberty



The Statue of Liberty symbolizes two things that are great about America, freedom and democracy.  People have fled to the United States from all over the world in search of a life in which they could be free, prosperous and safe.  The name of the man who had the idea to create a monument for freedom to give to the United States, was Édouard René de Laboulaye, president of the French Anti-Slavery Society. When the Union won the civil war in the United States and abolished slavery, Edouard saw that the United States was achieving freedom and demotscracy that he wished for his native France.   He thought that by honoring these American achievements with a gift from France he might inspire his native Frenchmen to call for their own democracy.   Edouard proposed the idea to a sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi who crossed the Atlantic and proposed the idea to influential New Yorkers and to President Ulysses Grant.  The statue was very expensive and schoolchildren and ordinary citizens from across France donated the money to build it.

The poet Emma Lazarus was asked to write a poem in honor of the statue.  Besides being a talented poet Emma had personal experience with America's kindness to refugees. America gave refuge to Russian Jews and  Emma helped those Jews.  A Jewish woman named Hesya Helfman was a member of a Russian revolutionary organization called Narodnaya Volya (People's Will)  that assassinated the Tsar of Russia because they considered him an oppressor of the people.  Hesya was not one of the assassins and most of the members of Narodnaya Volya were not Jewish.  Nevertheless, her membership in the organization gave Russians an excuse to blame the Jews.  After the assassinaton anti-semitic Russian people who supported the Tsar  took revenge by rioting against and massacring Jews.  America offered refuge to thousands of the Russian Jews in New York City.  Emma helped establish the Hebrew Technical Institute in New York to provide vocational training to assist destitute Jewish immigrants to become self-supporting.  Emma wrote a poem in honor of American kindness to refugees which is inscribed in a plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. 


The final lines of the poem were put to music by Irving Berlin one of America's greatest songwriters.  Irving Berlin's family escaped Russia when he was 5 years old.  In Russia, they had faced poverty, discrimination and progroms.  As an adult Irving said he had only one memory of his first five years in Russia "he was lying on a blanket by the side of a road, watching his house burn to the ground.  By daylight the house was in ashes.  America offered Irving and his family refuge.  If America hadn't we wouldn't have all the beautiful songs that Irving Berlin wrote.  We wouldn't have the beautiful music he created for Emma Lazarus's poem.  The lines of Emma Lazarus's poem that Irving Berlin put to music are:

 "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!"

You can hear Emma Lazarus's words that Irving Berlin put to music in the video below.

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Irving Berlin wrote another song that is even more famous than the one on the Statue of Liberty.  What was that song?

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