Images of America: What does the Statue of Liberty symbolize?

Currier and Ives print of the Statue of LibertySOME pictures in the photo gallery Images of America have a more complicated history than we might guess—including this Currier and Ives lithograph of the Statue of Liberty.

Our question: What does the Statue of Liberty symbolize for you and your family?

Today, Americans are likely to think of immigrants when they see the 305-foot-tall base and statue—especially the millions of immigrants who crossed the Atlantic from Europe.

Did you know that association was an afterthought?

The French idea of giving a statue to the United States began at the end of the Civil War—as a way to celebrate the Union victory and the abolition of slavery. The idea originally was to honor America’s new commitment to liberty.

As the project unfolded, however, there were many American critics of this gigantic “gift,” especially when the French revealed that Americans would have to raise money to complete the project. Among other things, “we” had to pay for the gigantic base that comprises more than half of the monument’s height. Harper’s Weekly complained that it was unfair of the French to start such a huge project and then refuse to underwrite the entire effort. The New York Times went further and complained: “No true patriot can countenance any such expenditures for bronze females in the present state of our finances.”

What about the famous Emma Lazarus poem The New Colossus? Remember it? Most-memorable lines include:

“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!”

Lazarus was a well-known poet in New York who wrote the poem as part of the fund-raising effort to build the statue’s base. She donated a copy of the poem to an artists’ fund-raiser and, after that, it was largely forgotten.

The famous Currier and Ives lithograph of the statue, which is included in our photo gallery, was released in 1885 before the monument was finished. The artists’ commentary on the statue said nothing about immigrants. They focused on its cutting-edge design, writing, “The torch will display a powerful electric light, and the statue thus will present, by night as by day, an exceeding grand and imposing appearance.”

The statue was dedicated in 1886, when most Americans were not even thinking about honoring “the wretched refuse” who were “teeming” toward our shores.

But, then? Millions of our American grandparents and great-grandparents arrived at New York City and regarded this towering lady as their first American greeting. They shared the story with their families. By 1903, the Emma Lazarus poem was placed on a bronze tablet in the statue’s base.

What does the Statue of Liberty symbolize to you—and to your family—today?

Civil conversations build healthy communities …

The United America photo gallery Images of America was developed so you can freely share these inspiring images with friends. This method has been used successfully with groups nationwide to spark spirited and constructive discussions about what unites us as Americans. Then, to fully understand the 10 core values, get the book United America. So, come on! Start your own discussion …

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Images of America: What moves you outdoors?

WPA Federal Arts Project poster for Yellowstone National ParkIN OUR TOUR through the photo gallery Images of America, we began with images of core values universally held by Americans, as documented in the book United America. In Part 6, we looked at one of the milestone photographs of the 20th Century—a view of planet Earth from outer space—and discussed how concern over our environment is not a core American value at this point.

Today’s question: What images of our natural world do inspire you?

You’ll find a number of them in the photo gallery. Among them are examples of an almost-forgotten art project created within the Works Progress Administration (WPA) for the National Park Service. Within the Depression-era WPA, a special Federal Arts Project ran from 1935 until 1943—employing thousands of artists and eventually creating 200,000 works of art! A small unit in that program produced park posters from 1938 to 1941.

That unit was just a drop in the ocean of artists working coast to coast. And, to this day, the full documentation for the park posters seems to be missing, including the name of the artist who created the silk screen poster for this once-again popular image of Old Faithful at Yellowstone.

As the Park Service tells the story, the posters themselves nearly vanished. A dusty handful came to light while a ranger was cleaning out an old shed. The few people who saw them were inspired enough to recover and restore at least a handful of these beautiful images.

Have you seen some of the WPA National Parks posters? (You can see more in this gallery posted by National Geographic.)

Do these images inspire you? If not, then what images do move you to get outdoors?

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The United America photo gallery Images of America was developed so you can freely share these inspiring images with friends. This method has been used successfully with groups nationwide to spark spirited and constructive discussions about what unites us as Americans. Then, to fully understand the 10 core values, get the book United America. So, come on! Start your own discussion …

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Images of America: What’s not an American core value? (Hint: It’s our home.)

wpid-0521_ov_NASA_view_of_earth.jpgTHIS WEEK, we’re continuing with our guided tour through the United America photo gallery Images of America as our way to celebrate these mid-summer weeks surrounding the Fourth of July. Millions of Americans are traveling, now, exploring our nation’s great diversity—including our National Parks and other natural wonders.

It’s a perfect time to consider the values that unite us.

But, examine carefully this chart of United America 10 Core Values. Then, look at today’s featured image from the Images of America photo gallery—one of the photos captured by NASA of our big blue planet.

Today’s question: What’s not an American core value? A concern about the health of our environment.

Despite the impassioned appeal of Pope Francis’s new letter on the environment, recent polling is showing relatively few worries about the health of our natural world.

But we’re not united in this complacency. Many young children are terrified about the Earth’s future, according to a recent poll of American kids ages 6 to 11. A third worry that the planet won’t even exist by the time they grow up. A clear majority (56%) fear the Earth will be devastated by the time they grow up.

The poll, commissioned by Habitat Heroes, also found that minority kids are the most worried: 75% of Black children and 65% of Hispanic children worry that the Earth will have deteriorated by the time they grow up.

So, we’ve certainly done a good job terrifying our children about the world they will inherit.

At the same time, American adults’ worries about the environment are near record lows, according to a new Gallup survey. Concerns about drinking water, air quality, rain forests, and global warming were the highest in from late 1980s to the early 2000s. Worries hit historic lows around 2010 and 2011, blipped up slightly, and then fell back in 2015. Today, 50% of Americans rate the overall quality of the environment as excellent or good—the highest since 2001.

Want more fuel for a discussion about our environmental attitudes? In April, I devoted a week-long series to ideas for getting our kids to spend more time in the natural world—one sure-fire way to raise concerns for our planet’s well-being.

Start a conversation …

The United America photo gallery Images of America was developed so you can freely share these inspiring images with friends. This method has been used successfully with groups nationwide to spark spirited and constructive discussions about what unites us as Americans. Then, to fully understand the 10 core values, get the book United America. So, come on! Start your own discussion …

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Images of America: Feeling good on the Fourth? We all are.

Fourth_of_july_fireworks_behind_the_washington_monument_1986One of our strongest core values as Americans—widely and deeply held coast to coast—is “Symbolic Patriotism,” listed as United America Core Value 2: “An emotional connection to country; feeling good when seeing the American flag or hearing the national anthem.”

Are you already feeling your spirits soaring for the Fourth?

Foreign observers are always amazed at the near-reverence with which Americans embrace their symbols. But if you are American, you understand completely. Seeing the flag fly or hearing the national anthem makes just about any American feel good.

Consider posting today’s photo on your Facebook page or simply email the link to this column to a friend.

Conduct your own research. What are your friends saying about the patriotic symbols we encounter on the Fourth?

Want even more patriotic fuel?

Enjoy this video of the original 1814 music of our Star-Spangled Banner, a project coordinated by my colleague University of Michigan musicologist Mark Clague, an authority on Francis Scott Key and the Star-Spangled Banner.

 

 

Start a discussion this weekend …

Bookmark our United America photo gallery Images of America and show it to friends this holiday weekend. Come on! Start your own discussion …

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Images of America: Are we still a Melting Pot? Were we ever?

wpid-dc_Israel_Zangwill_The_Melting_Pot.jpgSome of the photographs in our United America gallery represent national symbols.

These powerful, iconic ideas play a special role in American society. Most other nations are what we call birthright nations. The feeling of belonging to a “people” comes from common ancestry, history, customs, language, and religion. America, however, is not a birthright nation. The sense of belonging to the American people comes from a commitment to a set of ideas and ideals.

Today, we’re looking at one of the major symbols of the 20th century: The Melting Pot.

This particular image portrays an earlier—perhaps an out of date—form of cultural unification. It’s a poster for The Melting Pot, a play by Israel Zangwill that debuted to rave reviews in 1909.

The Zangwill drama borrows from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy about star-crossed lovers from two warring families. Zangwill set his play in New York City—a sort of West Side Story before its time—where the Romeo figure (named David in the play) is a Russian Jew who escaped an infamously brutal pogrom and the Juliet character (named Vera) is a Christian settlement worker, also a Russian immigrant. When “Romeo” learns that “Juliet’s” father directed the very pogroms he escaped, they are torn apart. Unlike Shakespeare’s tragedy, however, The Melting Pot has a happy American ending—the lovers reconcile.

The idea of a cultural smelting pot, crucible, or melting pot can be traced back at least to the 18th century, but Zangwill’s play popularized the idea of America as a place where differences were dissolved into a cultural whole.

Is this symbol still valid? Or is it out of date? Here are some of the thoughts about this Melting Pot image from a small-group dialog I hosted. Which of these comments is closest to your own reaction?

  • This image seems “outdated” because we are more of a “spicy stew” now than a bland “cream soup.”
  • We embrace people who come from different places. Perhaps a better image now would be “many pots” rather than a single melting pot. Yet “we still have common values.”
  • “The drama now is how to maintain these values” and respect differences.
  • “I grew up in the ’50s and I miss those times—when we felt that we were a melting pot.”

So, what do you think …

The United America photo gallery Images of America was developed so you can freely share these inspiring images with friends. This method has been used successfully with groups nationwide to spark spirited and constructive discussions about what unites us as Americans. Then, to fully understand the 10 core values, get the book United America. So, come on! Start your own discussion …

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Images of America: Where are these people going?

Climbing_into_America_Ellis_Island_by_Lewis_HineAMERICAN IMAGES say a lot about the values we share. This week, we’ve already looked at two pictures that get people talking about values that unite us. Now, we’re adding a third.

Today’s question: Where are these people going?

Titles vary in exhibitions when this famous 1908 photograph of a stairway at Ellis Island are displayed. The two most common are: “Climbing into America” and “Climbing into the Promised Land.” The photographer, sociologist Lewis Hine, also made the photo we looked at yesterday. Considering how easy it is to snap photos today, you may not appreciate how hard Hine had to work to create this image.

One historian describes Hines’ process this way: “Amidst crowds of anxious immigrants milling about, Hine had to locate his subject and set the pose—almost always, because of the language barriers, without words. He had to set up his 5-by-7-inch view camera on its rickety tripod, focus the camera, pull the slide, dust his flash pan with powder, and through his looks and gestures try to extract the desired pose and expression. With a roar of flames and sparks, the flash pan exploded, an exposure was made, and beneath the protective cloud of smoke which blinded everyone in the room Hine would pack up and leave. A second exposure was out of the question; one shot was all he had.”

So, yes, Hine did “pose” this photograph of a few of the more than a million immigrants who passed through the Ellis Island immigration center near New York City that year. He achieved this “pose,” most likely, by asking the men and women continuously streaming up this stairway to stop and look his way. Just a few of them agreed to look into the camera. One man appears to be lifting his paperwork perhaps to cover his face. The woman in the photo has decided not to look Hines’ way.

Hines took about 200 photographs at Ellis Island between 1904 and 1909. His motive? Humanizing the sea of immigrants; showing the faces and illustrating the optimism of these men and women who, at the time, were dismissed by many Americans as impoverished rabble. Most Americans wanted to avoid these newcomers; Hines saw America’s future at Ellis Island.

Today, looking into Hine’s Ellis Island photos, most Americans wonder: Could he have captured one of my own ancestors? A great grandfather or great grandmother?

Today, these immigrants don’t frighten us—they are us. Today, discussion groups relate this photo to United America Core Value 7: Nearly all Americans believe in the value of “Getting Ahead—Individual achievement, status and success.”

Share these images …

The United America photo gallery Images of America was developed so you can freely share these inspiring images with friends. This method has been used successfully with groups nationwide to spark spirited and constructive discussions about what unites us as Americans. Then, to fully understand the 10 core values, get the book United America. So, come on! Start your own discussion …

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Images of America: Should “we” protect this child?

Lewis Hile photo of A Little Spinner in the Mollahan Mills Newberry SC

WHAT IMAGE says “America” to you?

Discussion groups nationwide tend to pull this image out of our stack of 100-plus pictures. It’s so visually striking!

Today’s question: Should “we” protect this child?

The easy answer is: Certainly! America outlawed child labor long ago—not to mention banning the obvious occupational health-and-safety issues in this factory.

But wait a minute! When we’ve shown the Images of America array of pictures in discussion groups, some participants find an entirely different lesson in this photograph, which they say makes them think about United America Core Value No. 4: “Self-reliance and individualism: Reliance on oneself; independence; emphasis on individual strengths and accomplishments.”

Part of the American narrative is that poor people can work hard to pull themselves toward prosperity. Some discussion-group participants hold up this particular picture and, without trying to justify the appalling conditions of child labor a century ago, they do talk about the powerful spirit of striving embodied in this little girl. As you can imagine, this kind of reflection quickly runs into objections from other group members—but that’s why we use these classic photos to start discussions. We discover all kinds of complex relationships between our core values.

This photograph by sociologist Lewis Hine was one of many startling images he captured of American children struggling to survive in the early 20th Century.

In response to his photos, Americans were horrified, right? Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

There were national efforts to abolish child labor as early as 1904, but Americans weren’t ready to enact sweeping laws until several decades later! In the depths of the Great Depression, American adults finally pushed to ban children from factories for a very practical reason—they wanted those jobs for the millions of unemployed adults! And, if we really dig into this issue, we discover that lawmakers declined to protect kids in farm settings. To this day, hundreds of thousands of children are involved in harvesting the food we eat, according to reporting in The Atlantic as recently as 2012 in a story headlined Do Children Harvest Our Food?

The answer to today’s question is more complex than we might guess at first glance!

Get a conversation going …

The United America photo gallery Images of America was developed so you can freely share these inspiring images with friends. This method has been used successfully with groups nationwide to spark spirited and constructive discussions about what unites us as Americans. Then, to fully understand the 10 core values, get the book United America. So, come on! Start your own discussion …

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