America did not become what it started out to be, and I, for one, am glad. When Thomas Jefferson penned the Constitution in 1787, only white, male landowners were given the right to vote. Poor men, Africans, Asians, Indians, and women were not entirely “citizens.” America was decidedly not the land of opportunity – unless you were wealthy, white, and male.
The structure of society in the New World was very much as it had been in the Old World until 1886, when the Statue of Liberty arrived as a gift from the French. In all America, there was no one among the privileged of 1886 who was willing to undertake the raising of a paltry $100,000 to assemble the Statue of Liberty.
Today’s America was born in 1886. The Statue of Liberty would have remained in crates to this very day had it not been for the efforts of an immigrant from Hungary. In his little paper, the New York World, Joe Pulitzer appealed to the little people of the city to undertake the installation of the statue. Shoe-shine boys, chimney sweeps, machine operators, and grocery clerks were called upon to come to the rescue. In recognition of their heroism, Pulitzer published the name of every contributor, even little kids who gave a nickel.
One of the contributors was a young Jewish girl named Emma Lazarus, who wrote a poem for an art exhibition to help raise money for the statue’s installation. Emma’s poem closed with the following lines: “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!” (I’ll bet you thought the government wrote that, didn’t you?)
In the end, 121,000 people contributed an average of 83 cents each to erect what has become the most American of all symbols. As a result of his efforts to erect the monument, the circulation of Joe’s little paper grew to monumental proportions as well, and Joseph Pulitzer went on to impact our nation as few men have ever done.
America is truly the land of opportunity, where you can become whatever you want. What is it you want to be?
Roy H. Williams