When Lady Liberty was unveiled in 1886, The Washington Post did not make mention of those words. They were not uttered at the ceremony to dedicate the statue, and the author — Emma Lazarus — would not live long enough to see them inscribed on a plaque on the pedestal.
As Washington Post reporter Katie Mettler wrote earlier this year, Lazarus wrote the sonnet that would contain those famous words as a favor to help raise funds for the pedestal that would hold the expensive gift from France. Her sonnet, she was told, would be sold at an auction that would also feature works from Mark Twain and Walt Whitman.
Lazarus begrudgingly agreed, and composed the words that in recent months have been splashed on protest signs and on Twitter feeds as a symbol of American compassion.
But Lazarus would never see a hint of what was to come of her work, titled “The New Colossus.” She died of cancer a year after the Statue of Liberty was dedicated, and it wasn’t until two decades later that the poet’s words adorned a plaque affixed to the inner wall of the statue’s pedestal.
So, Miller was right — at least about that.
And... from Think Progress
Stormfront.org, a popular website among white supremacists that boasts the tagline, “Every month is White history month,” has a numerous discussion threads on the topic, including one titled, “Give Me Your Huddled Masses — The Jewess who tried to destroy the US!” Contributors to the forum wrote the poem should be “considered graffiti” and stress that Lazarus’ sonnet is “not part of the original” statue at all.
The subreddit for Donald Trump supporters, which frequently pushes white nationalist memes, also has a post titled, “Does everyone realize that the poem inscribed beneath the Statue of Liberty is not, in fact, law?”
“The New Colossus” by Jewish-American poet Emma Lazarus was written in 1883, as many immigrants were moving to the United States through the port of Ellis Island in New York. She wrote the poem to help raise money for the base of the statue. The inscribed bronze plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty was added in 1903.
Notwithstanding that Miller and company suppose that Lady Liberty would be knee deep in Staten Island in their perfect worldview, this thinking is consistent with the Militia/White Separatist/Sovereign Citizen Movement that I first encountered in the 1990s. These people believe that only the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the original laws of this country and the rest of the Amendments are not worthy of being followed, as they came later. (I'm glossing over this fact just a tad; I'm keeping the God reference out).
This uber-originalist thinking is scary because of what it leaves out. It leaves out what most of mainstream America considers to be America. That thinking now resides in the White House and was on full display in the Press Room yesterday.
If I wasn't genuinely concerned about the direction we're heading, I am now.