President Thomas Jefferson remains a controversial historical figure for a number of reasons, including his dark past as a slave owner. And now, officials in New York City have decided to remove a high-profile statue of the founding father from the place it has stood for more than 100 years.
Tim Fitzsimons of NBC News reported that “a statue of Thomas Jefferson that stands over New York City Hall’s council chamber will be removed after a city commission vote Monday, Oct. 18.”
According to Fitzsimons, “the New York City Public Design Commission voted unanimously to move the statue to a public location, yet to be determined, before the end of the year. Efforts to remove the statue of the third president — who owned about 130 slaves when he died in 1826 — were renewed during the nationwide racial reckoning that followed the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.”
In an original proposal released earlier in the year, the statue was slated to be moved to the New-York Historical Society. However, officials decided the publicly owned artwork should not be housed in a private museum that charges admission. However, members of the Black, Latinx and Asian Caucus of the New York City Council were unhappy with that decision, saying it “prolonged the indignity” of having the now-offensive statue in such a prominent location.
When asked about the City Council’s vote to remove the statue from City Hall, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters that he understood why Jefferson’s history as a slave owner “profoundly bothers people” and “why they find it’s something that can’t be ignored.”
The 7-foot-tall plaster statue was created in 1833 and is a replica of the bronze Jefferson statue by Pierre-Jean David D’Algers housed in the U.S. Capitol. It’s been located in the council chamber since 1915.
“Uriah Philips Levy, the first Jewish Commodore of the Navy, commissioned the bronze statue and its plaster replica to honor Jefferson in part because he fought for religious freedom in the armed forces,” Fitzsimons reported.
The movement to remove the statue began in the summer of 2020 when City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wrote a letter to Mayor de Blasio saying that he and Black, Latino and Asian members of the City Council found it “inappropriate.”
“There are disturbing images of divisiveness and racism in our City that need to be revisited immediately,” Johnson said at the time. “That starts with City Hall.”
Councilmember Inez Barron has also spoken out repeatedly about the need for the statue to be removed, saying that in addition to his history as a slave owner, Jefferson had enacted some of the first laws designed to remove Native Americans from their land, contributing to the “ethnic cleansing and genocidal replacement” of Indigenous people.
“We are not being revisionist,” Barron told reporters. “We are not waging a war on history. We are saying that we want to make sure that the total story is told, that there are no half-truths, and that we are not perpetuating lies.”