A statue of Thomas Jefferson, former president and slave owner, has stood in the City Council chambers in City Hall for centuries, but, following a decades-long push, it may soon be removed.
There will be a vote by the Public Design Commission regarding the removal of the statue, which could go on “long-term loan” to the New-York Historical Society. The vote will take place on Monday, October 18th.
Marybeth Ihle, Director of Public Relations at the New-York Historical Society, provided Gothamist with this statement: “We are in ongoing discussions about the statue. While there are no specific plans for display at the moment, New-York Historical might in future years present an exhibition that may include it.”
In 2001, Council Member Charles Barron made a push for the Jefferson statue—created by Pierre-Jean David in 1833—to be replaced with one of Malcolm X—calling the Founding Father aFive years later, Barron’s seat in the chambers . “That’s my punishment for acting up, practicing democracy,” he said in 2006.
In 2020, following the police killing of George Floyd, City Council Speaker Cory Johnson, along with other council members, sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio. “I believe the New York City Council should neither ignore nor glorify this dark side of American history,” Council Member Debi Rose said at the time.
This week, the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus released a statement saying, in part, “The administration owes it to New Yorkers of color 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.”
At a press briefing on Thursday, de Blasio was asked about the potential removal of the statue. “It’s a democracy, I respect their right to make that request to the Public Design Commissioner,” he said, clarifying, “This is something [that] came from the council, not from me or the First Lady.”
De Blasio went on to speak about his own views of Jefferson—”He’s very complex to say the least. 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, and I understand why that profoundly bothers people and why they find it something that can’t be ignored… but he’s someone who is such a profound part of our history that needs to be seen… and that’s the kind of balance we’ll have to strike as we figure our way forward. We got to be honest about both sides of his history.”
In the Caucus’s statement, they noted Jefferson’s history includes holding “dominion over 600 African slaves,” and that “our Caucus has stood at the forefront of local efforts to ensure that the real history of America s genuine to all those who lived it.”