After the city Public Design Commission voted on Monday to remove the statue of Thomas Jefferson that has stood in the New York City Council chambers for over a century, but not until after the new year with the final decision pending.
The Black, Latino and Asian Caucus in the City Council is still not pleased with the delay, considering the activists have worked for the last two decades to remove the Founding Father’s likeness, which also represents to many that of a slave owner and a rapist.
“We are deeply disappointed that the Public Design Commission voted to prolong the indignity of having the statue of Thomas Jefferson – a founding father who also holds the dubious distinction of profiteering from the more than 600 human beings he owned as chattel, forcing himself upon a captive Sally Hemmings against her will, and being a white supremacist – lord over our members as they conduct the People’s business on behalf of more than five million New Yorkers of color, who themselves do not measure up to Jefferson’s own standards of liberty and equality, as his own personal correspondence suggests,” the caucus said in a statement.
The 1833 plaster model of the author of the Declaration of Independence by Pierre -Jean David D’Angers has been a fixture in City Hall almost since it was made, having first been placed in the chamber around 1915. The New-York Historical Society could be the statue’s next stop in its journey.
“If loaned to New-York Historical’s museum, the statue of Thomas Jefferson would be displayed in the main gallery on the first floor and given appropriate historical context, including details of Thomas Jefferson’s complicated legacy—his contributions as a founder and draftsman of the Declaration of Independence and the contradiction between his vision of human equality and his ownership of enslaved people–and the statue’s original purpose as a tribute to Jefferson’s staunch defense of freedom of religion and separation of church and state,” a New-York Historical Society statement read.
However, if it were up to Assemblyman Charles Barron, who spoke during Monday’s hearing, the statue should be destroyed for what he sees as the efforts of the Founding Fathers to maintain the institution of slavery as the British Empire was looking toward abolition.
“Some have the nerve to say, ‘that’s what they did at that time.’ Really?” Charles Barron said. “Because I can think of a lot of things that were done in the history of Europeans, in Germany, and nobody would pawn it off and say ‘that’s just what they did at that time – the Holocaust or something like that.”
The assemblyman and his wife, Councilwoman Ines Barron, were insistent that they were not revisionists, but wanted the full story of Jefferson told.
“Moreover, we are equally dismayed that the PDC commissioners themselves were so poorly prepared to resolve an issue that was first raised in objection by our Caucus two decades ago, and most recently with this Administration over the last two years, which in the era that we are currently living hardly requires any clarification or additional research to determine that Council Chambers is not an appropriate venue for providing the context this unwanted symbol of his likeness so desperately requires,” the BLA Caucus statement continued. “We along with our allies will continue to press the need for swift action to remove the indelible stain of Thomas Jefferson’s sordid history of human bondage – and its influence on his successors in purging the civilizations of our indigenous peoples – from the confines of the People’s House in this day and age.”
Others in during the meeting claimed that it cannot be proven through DNA analysis that Sally Hemmings did indeed carry his children while others simply believe the statue could be moved to a different part of City Hall.
Before its placement in the chamber, the statue stood in the Governor’s Room at City Hall starting in 1834 and at some point migrating to the Rotunda. The plaster rendition of Jefferson that is currently in City Hall is a copy of the bronze version that stands in the U.S. Capital Rotunda as well.