“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On my recent trip to New York, I decided to take a day to be a tourista. We spent a day visiting the Statue of Liberty with a quick stopover on Ellis Island.
But I couldn’t help thinking, throughout the whole experience, that were visiting Lady Liberty herself. But are we really free?
At the start of the journey to the Statue, we left from Battery Park, New York. While we were trying to figure out where to go, we stumbled upon a bronze sculpture called “The Immigrants.” This huge sculpture depicted various ethnic groups of “immigrants” including an Eastern European Jew, a freed African slave, a priest, and an industrial worker. It is dedicated to “people of all nations” who entered America through that area.
Trigger One. My friend Leah and I were immediately struck by the fallacy of this statement. The freed slave is considered an “immigrant?” I’m sorry, how? How is a slave, that was brought to this country again his will, considered an immigrant? How is a “freed” slave, who was subject to the Reconstruction era on through the Civil Rights Movement with little to no rights, considered an immigrant?
It was a beautiful sculpture, but I have to admit it really got me thinking. It made me feel some type of way. I don’t know that it had the same effect on other tourists who viewed it, who were just snapping pictures and moving on.
The lines to the Statue of Liberty are super long and cumbersome. We got our VIP tickets ahead of time, which allowed us to skip much of the line and head towards the front. This was a lifesaver and saved us a bunch of time. Pro Tip: Don’t wear a bunch of metal because there is airport-style security and that will delay things. Learned that firsthand.
Once you are on the boat, the views of the city are gorgeous. From the upper deck, looking back at the skyline is lovely, and you can actually see the Statue off in the distance. She stands so regal but is much smaller than I expected.
We had purchased pedestal tickets ahead of time, so when we got off we wandered around then headed to the Statue. We got up to the pedestal (because let’s be real, there was no chance I was going up to the crown), and looked around. When you step out of the elevator, you can see the inside of the Statue.
And when you step outside, the view is amazing! There were beautiful 360 degree views as you walk around the platform.
The perspective of the Statue was interesting from the pedestal. You were able to see different aspects from different sides. From one side you could see her book and skirt. From another side you could see the crown and the bottom of her torch and her book. It was a unique experience to observe and photograph.
But what you can’t see, and I wished that I could, is the broken chains. Most people don’t know that on the Lady’s left foot is a broken chain that sticks out from under her toga. It is supposed to represent freedom from oppression and the United States’ abolition of slavery.
You can’t be on the Statue of Liberty, at her feet, and not think about freedom. Or should I say the lack thereof. Well, scratch that. I am sure some can be at the feet of the Statute of Liberty and not think about liberty. But me, as a black woman, could not escape the contradiction of the moment. And the knowledge of the chains I couldn’t see but definitely felt.
I will admit that I was already feeling and in a blackity, black, black mood. Given the racial climate, it was hard not to. Because of the pain of Terence Crutcher’s shooting. And Philandro. And Trayvon. And Tamir. And Sandra. And Alton. It’s just been too much lately, and entirely too frequent. So when I finally saw Lady Liberty, even in the distance, I had a bitter taste in my mouth.
It was a great site to see. We took pictures and we were excited to be able to experience the Statute of Liberty firsthand. But just on the other hand we were faced with injustices in the very country that was touting its freedom. It was hard to reconcile and sift through the emotions at the moment. After all, the Statue was given to us just 20 years after the Civil War. She has a broken chain on her left ankle symbolizing this. But my people weren’t really free. Hell, we still had the Reconstruction era and the Civil Rights Movement until we weren’t openly killed for exercising our rights. And even today, a strong argument could be made that we still aren’t free. You’ve got people more upset that a black, male, football player is exercising his First Amendment right, than they are mad about the underlying issue… that black men and women are being executed on the streets of America by police while unarmed. The names above are just a sampling of the examples. How to you reconcile that? How, in that moment, with happy-go-lucky tourists snapping photos and not thinking or discussing the deeper meaning of the Statue, do you process everything yourself? And how do you do it without the twinges of anger?
The Ellis Island Bust
After we left the Statue of Liberty with some admittedly mixed emotions, we headed to Ellis Island for what we planned to be a quick trip. It ended up being quicker than we thought.
As we walked into the museum, we were unsure where we should head first. So we opted for Journeys: The Peopling of America- 1550s to 1890. This was a mistake.
Maybe it was the mindset we were in, or maybe it was the undertones of the whitewashing of American history that seems to occur at every turn these day, but this exhibit set us all off. In some instances it felt like the legacy of slavery in these United States was downplayed by the exhibit. We did appreciate the areas where they spoke of the brutality of slave ships and the Middle Passage, but there were instances where everything about the “Peopling of America” rubbed us the wrong way. The same rang true for the sections on Native Americans, particularly the portions regarding Manifest Destiny. Given the current state of affairs of our country, we just couldn’t take it anymore. We called it quits for the day. We were done.
Visiting the Statue of Liberty
Visiting the Statue of Liberty was a great New York, touristy moment that we got to experience. I was happy to be able to shoot the Statue, something I had been wanting to do since the last time I was in NYC a few years ago. But somehow, with everything that has been going on in “our” nation, it didn’t feel the same. She didn’t have the same luster, the same charm, the same spark I thought she would have.
Perhaps it is because the Statue of Liberty represents just that. Liberty.
But I don’t feel free.