A statue of Thomas Jefferson will be removed from New York City Hall’s council chamber following a unanimous vote from members of the Public Design Commission on Monday.
According to NBC News, the statue of America’s third president will be moved to a public space by the end of 2021. Jefferson was a well-known slave owner, and many people feel his image shouldn’t be showcased in such a prominent location due to his racist and prejudicial practices.
On Monday, council member Inez Barron spoke about Jefferson’s perception that Blacks were inferior to white people, saying Jefferson’s statue should not be placed in “a position of honor and recognition and tribute,” NPR reports.
The commission’s original proposal asked for the statue to be moved to the New York Historical Society, according to NPR. During the meeting, it was revised after challengers of the plan brought up the fact it is a private museum that does not have direct public access.
Public art supporter and president of the Washington Street Advocacy Group Todd Fine, said that the statue “could easily be moved to the Governor’s Room, which is filled with people associated with slavery.”
Robert Blecker, Professor Emeritus at New York Law School, told NBC News that “Thomas Jefferson had slaves. So did George Washington and other founders of this republic.” He also added that a plaque should be erected in order to give the statue context, rather than tearing it down.
While its upcoming location remains unclear, the 7-foot-tall replica of the version that stands in the U.S. Capitol had been moved multiple times before being placed in City Hall’s council chamber in 1915. According to NBC News, Jewish Navy officer Uriah Phillips Levy commissioned the bronze statue because of Jefferson’s advocacy for religious freedom in the U.S. military.
According to NBC News, Corey Johnson, city council speaker, wrote a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2020, asking for the statue’s removal.
Johnson wrote, “The statue of Thomas Jefferson in the City Council Chambers is inappropriate and serves as a constant reminder of the injustices that have plagued communities of color since the inception of our country.”
Councilwoman Adrienne Adams spoke about how visible Jefferson’s statue was in the chamber, and how “he compared the very idea of freeing slaves from captivity to abandoning children,” NBC News reports.
In agreement with the decision to remove the statue, Inez Barron said that Jefferson also wanted to move Native Americans off their land.
“We are not being revisionist. We are not waging a war on history,” Barron said in the NPR report. “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.”