Emma Lazarus wrote The New Colossus in 1883 to raise money for the Statue of Liberty. Funds would be used to construct the pedestal where the statue now stands. In 1903 the poem was placed on the statue’s plaque to commemorate its author. An excerpt from the last stanza of the sonnet reads:
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!
President Benjamin Harrison designated Ellis Island an immigration hub in 1890. Before it officially opened in 1892, immigration was regulated by the states. It served as the first federal immigration station in the United States of America.
From 1892 to 1954 Ellis Island processed more than 12 million immigrants. Although the center was originally only 3.3 acres, it was later expanded to more than 27.5. Newcomers could see the Statue of Liberty from the island, standing as a beacon of hope and freedom.
After a fire destroyed the center in 1895, it was reconstructed to resemble a railroad station. A baggage room was added along with a dining hall, a kitchen, a dormitory with at least 600 beds, a hospital, a roof, and a garden. More than $1.5 million dollars were used for its construction.
Historians estimate that close to 40% of all U.S. citizens can trace at least part of their ancestry back to Ellis Island. Many prominent Americans traveled aboard the same ships, visiting or passing through the Port of New York and Ellis Island:
- Theodore Roosevelt (1910)
- William Taft (1921)
- Dwight D. Eisenhower (1921)
- Franklin Roosevelt (1905)
- Herbert Hoover (1917)
- Woodrow Wilson (1912)
- Josephine Baker (1935)
- Harry Houdini (1914)
- Bob Hope (1908)
- Charlie Chaplin (1912)
- Walt Disney (1919)
- Cary Grant (1920)
- F. Scott Fitzgerald (1921)
- Langston Hughes (1924)
- Rudyard Kipling (1892)
- W.E.B. Du Bois (1924)
- Booker T. Washington (1910)
- Carl Jung (1909)
- Sigmund Freud (1909)
- Albert Einstein (1921)
America was founded on genocide and conquest. For the sake of creating what is now the United States of America, millions of indigenous people were slaughtered. In the aftermath, suicide rates are highest among indigenous groups. Substance abuse rates are also greater among these communities than among other racial/ethnic groups.
During the 1500s the first Europeans established settlements in what would become the United States. The pilgrims arrived in the early 1600s, in search of religious freedom. Jamestown, a Virginia colony, was established in 1607, the first permanent settlement.
European colonization brought disease, enslavement, and warfare to indigenous Americans. It is estimated that millions of indigenous peoples were killed and enslaved. The 1600s brought pilgrims followed by the Puritans. From 1630 to 1640 more than 20,000 Puritans migrated to the United States. Convicts were also shipped across the Atlantic Ocean and were used as indentured servants.
During the Transatlantic slave trade, more than 12.5 million Africans were shipped to what is now the Americas. They were separated from their husbands, wives, and children. Their mothers, sisters, and daughters were raped by white slavemasters. On the ship, they were made to sleep in their own bile and feces. Some who were perceived as weak were thrown overboard in chains, and drowned. Some suffocated on others’ feces and died in their sleep. Others were beaten to death. They were stripped down naked and traded like livestock.
America has never repaid its debt to indigenous Americans, if there was truly a way to atone for millions of ruined lives, genocide, and displacement. From 1830 to 1838 more than 100,000 Indians were forced off their land by federal officials. The Trail of Tears resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 indigenous Cherokee Indians.
It was not until 1924 that Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act. This act gave Native Americans ‘dual citizenship’ among the United States as well as their native land. They were given voting rights under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And in 1968, they gained the right to a jury, the right to free speech, and protection from unreasonable search and seizure. This was less than 50 years ago.
Under the current administration, The New Colossus is null and void. Ellis fades to a distant memory. I’m still in outrage, with no sight of reform, but I’m looking for ways to contribute and to participate.
If you’re able, join me in donating here:
- End Genocide
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)
- Lambda Legal
- NAACP Legal Defense Fund
- Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
- International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)
How are you involved?