Douglas Volk, They Shall Not Perish, 1918, poster, 37 3/16 x 24 7/8 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Phillip M. Flammer.
Today, we celebrate America’s Independence Day through Douglas Volk’s They Shall Not Perish, a poster commissioned by the American Committee for Relief in the Near East.
It has been 132 years since The Statue of Liberty, a gift of the French people to the United States, was dedicated in New York Harbor. Her message, penned by the Jewish poet, Emma Lazarus, was an invitation to the downtrodden of the world:
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!
With its nationalistic theme, this poster can be read as a statement of America’s role as protector of the oppressed peoples of the world. Here, Volk invokes Lady Liberty, but in a more active stance, wielding a sword in emulation of Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom. A young frightened girl, representing refugees and displaced peoples of Armenia, Greece, Syria, and Persia, clings to Lady Liberty for protection, wrapped in an American flag. Mandated by President Woodrow Wilson and legislated by Congress, the United States rescued and provided assistance to thousands of men, women, and children and established refugee centers, clinics, hospitals, and schools for the survivors.