Thomas Jefferson statue removed from New York City Hall over slave-owning past

Mayoral-appointed commission instigated the move last month

John Bowden
Tuesday 23 November 2021 18:25
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US President Thomas Jefferson statue removed from New York City Hall over slavery links

A statue of Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, was removed from New York City Hall on Tuesday over concerns raised by council members about Mr Jefferson’s past ownership of slaves.

The statue’s removal is the latest example of an art piece or memorial being moved from official grounds or places of prominence due to concerns about glorifying individuals who participated in the institution of American slavery or even fought for its cause in the Civil War. Activists and local leaders around the US have previously targeted statues memorialising figures including Robert E Lee, Christopher Columbus and others in both official removals and protests resulting in the destruction or vandalisation of some pieces.

The Jefferson statue was officially set for removal last month after New York City’s Public Design Commission voted unanimously to remove the piece from City Hall’s legislative chamber and move it to historical preservation.

“We acknowledge that the piece needs to be removed from the City Council chamber,” Public Design Commission president Signe Nielsen said at the time, adding that it would be moved to “an appropriate location where it remains in the public realm”.

The statue will now be housed at the New York Historical Society.

Ms Nielsen originally opposed that decision, which means that visitors will have to pay $22 admission if they wish to view the statue in the future.

Mr Jefferson owned dozens of slaves at his Virginia Monticello plantation, including Sally Hemmings, with whom he is believed to have had six children after starting a sexual relationship when she was just 16. That uncomfortable truth about Mr Jefferson has resulted in him facing some of the toughest scrutiny from modern historians and critics of any of the men considered to be America’s Founding Fathers.

One Democrat formerly on the New York City Council (and now in the state Assembly) who has long criticised the statue’s inclusion in the legislative chamber referred to Mr Jefferson as a “slave-owning pedophile” during one fiery address calling for it to be removed in October.

“I think it should be put in storage somewhere, destroyed or whatever,” said Assemblyman Charles Barron.

The Public Design Commission is made up commissioners appointed by the mayor; current members include representatives of the New York Public Library system, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as several artists.

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