Officials Play Hot Potato With Controversial New York Statue
The New York City Public Design Commission voted unanimously on Monday to move the 188-year-old statue of Thomas Jefferson from the City Council chambers, though it is not clear where the statue will end up. The statue is planned to be on “long-term loan” to the New-York Historical Society where it will be displayed with “educational” material about how Jefferson, the main writer of the Declaration of Independence and the nation’s third president, was also a slave owner.
Several locations have been put forward for the statue to reside, such as the Governor’s Room at City Hall, a small museum right outside the council chamber. Another suggestion was to move it to the New York Public Library where there is a copy of the Declaration of Independence in Jefferson’s handwriting.
“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,” read a statement from the council’s Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus.
“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,” de Blasio has said. “And I understand why that profoundly bothers people.”
The statue has long been a source of controversy in New York, and efforts to move it amped up in June 2020 when the council sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio asking that it be removed.
Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa opposed the move and wanted to know, “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.
As of this writing, a replica of the 1833 bronze cast by sculptor Pierre-Jean David remains on display in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.