In 1883, while living at 18 West 10th Street, Emma Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus” for the opening of an art auction organized to raise funds for construction of the Statue of Liberty pedestal. The poem, placed above the statue’s main entrance, is an impassioned affirmation of the ideals that have brought millions of immigrants to the United States.
Lazarus contrasts the original Colossus (of Rhodes), a “brazen giant” representing conquest and exclusion of outsiders, with the “mighty…Mother of Exiles” who will provide protection for outsiders “yearning to breathe free.” “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
The statue, a gift from France which celebrated its friendship with the U.S., was also meant to inspire European governments to grant more freedom and democracy in Europe. However, the statue and sentiments expressed in Lazarus’ poem became, and have remained, beacons of hope and symbols of “world-wide welcome” to the oppressed and exiled who have left other countries to come here.
Some misguided Americans have shown diminished appreciation of these ideals. But most New Yorkers have not, and continue to extend a welcome to all immigrants.