Thomas Jefferson statue removed from NY City Council chambers due to slave ownership concerns

Thomas Jefferson statue removal battle in New York going on for years

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Tuesday, October 19, 2021
NYC commission votes unanimously to move Jefferson statue
The New York City Public Design Commission voted unanimously Monday to move a controversial 188-year-old statue of Thomas Jefferson.

NEW YORK CITY -- The New York City Public Design Commission voted unanimously Monday to move a controversial 188-year-old statue of Thomas Jefferson from the City Council chambers a City Hall.

However, where that statue will be moved to remains up in the air.

The statue, which dates back to 1833, was expected to go on "long term loan" to the New-York Historical Society by the end of the year, where it would be included in educational exhibits with the proper historical context that likely will include discussion of Jefferson's slave ownership.

But members of the commission disagreed over the initial plans because the New-York Historical Society charges a fee.

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The fate of a Thomas Jefferson statue at New York City Hall will be determined next week with a vote by the Public Design Commission.

One suggestion was made to move the statue to the Governor's Room at City Hall, a small museum located just outside the Council chamber on the second floor, or it could move to the New York Public Library, which already displays a copy of the Declaration of Independence in Jefferson's handwriting.

The members agreed to find an appropriate home for the statue by the end of the year.

The latest battle to remove the statue came after the City Council sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio in June 2020 calling for its removal.

The fight, though, has been years in the making, centering on the fact that Jefferson was a slave owner.

De Blasio has shared his own views of Jefferson, calling the founding father "complex."

"The thing that is so troubling to people is that even someone who understood so deeply the values of freedom and human dignity and the value of each life was still a slave owner," he said. "And I understand why that profoundly bothers people."

The City Council's Black, Latino, and Asian caucus released a statement on the statue's removal.

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"This Administration owes it to the more than five million New Yorkers of color our members - past, present and future - represent, to resolve that the individuals memorialized within the confines of our People's House be reflective not only of the best traditions of our city's history and its diversity but unquestionable character," it read, in part.

Not everyone supports removing the statue, and it has become an issue in the New York City mayoral race.

Candidates Curtis Sliwa and Eric Adams both shared their thoughts on the matter.

"Do we suddenly wipe out the images, the markings, the names of all those great patriots because they were slaveholders and slave holding was quite common at that time?" Sliwa said.

Adams released a statement saying, in part, "There are a number of appropriate figures to honor in our seat of government who are more directly meaningful to our people and are more reflective of our city's history than Thomas Jefferson."