It is a stunning photograph that captures a celebration of liberty: New York harbor laden with boats, gun smoke rising into the air and from the top a newly-unveiled sight – the Statue of Liberty.
The photo – taken in October 1886 – when the United States officially unveiled Lady Liberty, a gift from the French that took nine years to build before it was deconstructed, shipped across the Atlantic and then reassembled in four months.
It is one of a series of images featured in a new book compiled by filmmaker Ken Burns Our America: A Photographic History, which takes a look at the country in its truest form over the last 200 years. The book, which spotlights various photographers, captures the soul of America at moments that helped shape the nation.
The collection also features the mind-blowing first self-portrait ever taken in 1839 of Robert Cornelius, an amateur chemist who worked in his father’s gas lamp-making company in Philadelphia and who revolutionized exposure times in photography. It also shows the first photo of the US Capitol building taken in 1946.
It also features America at its worst, including the historic fight between the first African American world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson and the previously undefeated champion Jim Jeffries, who is white, on Independence Day 1910 in Reno, Nevada.
The fight – dubbed the Fight of the Century – went beyond just two incredible fighters going head-to-head, but the beast of racial discrimination lay at the forefront. As Johnson was black, many white Americans did not dub him fit enough to hold the heavyweight title and they summoned Jeffries out of retirement in an attempt to reclaim the title, which he failed to do. Johnson won in the 15th round.
All the images in the book, published by Penguin Random House, are considered Burns’ favorites. The 69-year-old native New Yorker has been capturing America for four decades in films and is known for never shying away from the ugliness, which is evident in his new book.
Burns is known as one of the most influential documentary makers and for his work on the documentary, Brooklyn Bridge, which put him on the map in 1981, the movie The Central Park Five, and the series Muhammad Ali, among others.
The Statue of Liberty is wrapped in a cloud of smoke after the gun salute during its unveiling in New York Harbor in October 1886. The statute was gifted to the US by the French
New York City’s subway opened in 1904, which the nation called a ‘slight transit improvement’ at the time, not knowing it would one day be recognized as one of the best systems in the world. The City Hall station (pictured), which has since been permanently closed, has a loop behind it, allowing today’s 6 trains to turn back uptown after the last stop
The first African American world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson fought the previously undefeated champion Jim Jeffries in a historic Fight of the Century match on July 4, 1910 in Reno, Nevada (pictured). It was one of the most highly anticipated matches at the time, which Jeffries coming out of retirement to take on Johnson, who won after the 15th round
Children played in the Whitman Street dump in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in 1912 in a photograph taken by Lewis Wickes
A blind street musician was photographed playing the violin in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1935. Burns’ book strives to show America from every angle through his favorite photos
A group of KKK members carry an American flag up the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington DC in August 1925. More than 30,000 Klansman marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, walking for more than three hours after being welcomed by the segregated District’s white residents
Twenty-seven African American soldiers in the 4th US Colored Infantry line up at Fort Lincoln in Washington DC in 1863. When the Civil War broke out, it was illegal for African Americans to join. However, after Abraham Lincoln’s January 1, 1983, Emancipation Proclamation, it became legal for them to join. As segregation remained, they had their own units
This is the first recorded photograph of the US Capitol building. It was taken in 1946 by John Plumbe
Our America contains 251 black-and-white images (pictured: book cover)
Ken Burns (pictured), who is largely known for his impressive filmmaking, has been capturing American history for more than four decades and uses imagery to heavily re-create the struggles and successes of the country
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