It’s a stunning photo that captures a celebration of freedom: New York Harbor laden with boats, gun smoke rising into the sky, and a newly unveiled face from the top – 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 being deconstructed, shipped across the Atlantic, and then reassembled in four months put.
It’s one of a series of images appearing in a new book put together by filmmaker Ken Burns Our America: A Photographic History, which looks at the country in its truest form over the past 200 years. The book, which highlights a variety of photographers, captures the soul of America in moments that helped shape the nation.
The collection also includes the stunning first self-portrait ever made in 1839 of Robert Cornelius, an amateur chemist who worked in his father’s small gas lamp factory in Philadelphia and who revolutionized exposure times in photography. It also shows the first photograph of the US Capitol building, taken in 1946.
It’s also about America at its worst, including the historic fight between the first African-American world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson and 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 was at the forefront. Because Johnson was black, many white Americans called him not fit enough to hold the heavyweight title and called Jeffries out of retirement in an attempt to reclaim the title, which he failed to do. Johnson won in the 15th round.
All of 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 in films for four decades and is known for never shying away from ugliness, as evidenced in his new book.
Burns is known as one of the most influential documentary filmmakers, including his work on the documentary Brooklyn Bridge, which put him on the map in 1981, the film The Central Park Five and the Muhammad Ali series.
The Statue of Liberty is enveloped in a cloud of smoke after the gun salute at the unveiling in New York Harbor in October 1886. The statute was donated to the US by the French
The New York City subway opened in 1904, what the nation called a “light transit improvement” at the time, unaware that it would one day be recognized as one of the best systems in the world. The Town Hall station (pictured), which has since been permanently closed, has a loop behind it, allowing today’s 6 trains to turn back up after the last stop
The first African-American world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson fought 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, in which Jeffries came out of retirement to face Johnson, who won after the 15th round.
Children playing in the garbage dump on Whitman Street in Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1912, in a photo taken by Lewis Wickes
A blind busker was photographed playing the violin in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1935. Burns’ book attempts to show America from every angle through his favorite photographs
A group of KKK members carry an American flag up the steps of the Capitol in Washington DC in August 1925. More than 30,000 Klansman marched down Pennsylvania Avenue for more than three hours after being welcomed by the white residents of the segregated district.
Twenty-seven African American soldiers of 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 Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1983, it became legal for them to join. Because segregation persisted, 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 (photo: book cover)
Known largely for his impressive films, Ken Burns (pictured) has been documenting American history for more than four decades, using imagery to heavily recreate the country’s struggles and successes