Story at a glance
- The New York City Public Design Commission on Monday voted in favor of removing the 7-foot statue from the council chambers.
- Efforts by some councilmembers to remove the Jefferson statue have been ongoing for decades due to the former president’s role as a slave owner.
- The statue of Jefferson has been in City Hall since 1834 and was moved to the City Council’s chambers in 1915.
A statue of Thomas Jefferson that has stood in the New York City council chamber for more than 100 years will be removed amid debate over the former president’s role as a slave owner.
The New York City Public Design Commission on Monday voted in favor of removing the 7-foot statue from the council chambers before the end of the year after listening to arguments for several hours. The commission, however, did not make a decision on where the statue will ultimately end up, but it plans to choose a location by the end of 2021.
The statue was expected to go on long-term loan to the New York Historical Society, but members of the commission disagreed over those plans because the Historical Society charges an entrance fee, which would make the publicly owned statue more difficult to view. The proposal to lend the statue came from the City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.
Efforts by some councilmembers to remove the Jefferson statue, which is a plaster version of a bronze statue located in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, have been ongoing for decades, but gained traction last year following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis that kicked off a racial reckoning in the U.S.
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“Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder who owned over 600 human beings,” Councilmember Adrienne Adams, co-chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, said during Monday’s commission meeting.
“It makes me deeply uncomfortable knowing that we sit in the presence of a statue that pays homage to a slaveholder who fundamentally believed that people who look like me were inherently inferior, lacked intelligence, and were not worthy of freedom or rights,” Adams said.
The decision to delay immediate removal, however, upset the caucus that accused commissioners of voting to “prolong the indignity” of having the statue “lord over our members as they conduct the People’s business on behalf of more than five million New Yorkers of color.”
Some suggested the statue be moved to the Governor’s Room where it was originally displayed decades before being moved to the chambers as a compromise to remain in City Hall.
“Removal of the Pierre-Jean David D’Algers statue of Thomas Jefferson from City Hall would be a direct attack on the symbol of the Democratic values New Yorkers hold dear,” Sean Wilentz, an American history professor at Princeton University, said in a letter to the commission.
“The statue specifically honors Jefferson for his greatest contribution to America, indeed, to humankind. The basic idea, radical then, radical now, that all men are created equal,” Wilentz wrote.
The statue of Jefferson has been in City Hall since 1834 and was moved to the City Council’s chambers in 1915.
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