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In light of events such as the murder of George Floyd, people have been reckoning with the paradoxes of historical figures. Thomas Jefferson occupies one such gray area, as a figure who was both a founding father and slaveholder of more than 600 people.
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On October 18, some New York City officials decided Jefferson’s place in history, unanimously voting to remove a statue of him from the New York City Council Chamber. However, the council also delayed a decision on where to move it.
According to a city document, the statue was created in 1833 and has been in the council chambers for more than a century.
Signe Nielsen, president of the Public Design Commission, which oversees art at the property, brought up the decision’s significance at a public hearing before the council vote.
“There are 700 pieces of art under our jurisdiction, we cannot make a rash decision that will set a precedent for the other 699 pieces of artwork that may also have challenges from people or other groups of people,” Nielsen said at the hearing.
Efforts to remove the statue have been going on for two decades.
“It makes me deeply uncomfortable knowing that we sit in the presence of a statue that pays homage to a slaveholder who fundamentally believed that people who look like me were inherently inferior, lacked intelligence and were not worthy of freedom or rights,” council member Adrienne Adams, co-chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, said in a presentation for the commission.
Since the vote, numerous scholars and professors have pushed back against the decision. Some reason that the Jefferson statue’s removal minimizes the crimes of the Confederacy, while others say Jefferson’s ideas on equality should be “grappled with daily.”
The commission ultimately voted to find a public location for the statue — outside of council chambers — by the end of the year.