New York City officials voted unanimously on Monday to remove a 7-foot-tall statue of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, from City Hall.
The statue, which has stood in the New York City Council chamber at City Hall for more than 100 years, will be relocated after the Public Design Commission voted 8-0 to relocate the statue at the request of members of the City Council's Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus. Several city officials that spoke at a hearing on the statue raised Jefferson's legacy as a slaveowner as cause to remove it from City Hall.
"Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder who owned over 600 human beings," Queens Councilwoman Adrienne Adams said. "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."
Councilwoman Inez Barron told the commission Monday that the effort to remove the statue was more than 20 years old, CNN reported. The effort gained momentum last year as protests and riots over George Floyd's death while in police custody animated the left to tear down monuments to America's Founding Fathers on the basis that they were racists and slaveholders who promoted injustice.
Black and Latino lawmakers said in a letter to the mayor that the statue is "a constant reminder of the injustices that have plagued communities of color since the inception of our country."
The New York Times reported that the statue was initially intended to be relocated to the New York Historical Society, which agreed to "present the statue in a historical context that captured Jefferson's legacy as a founding father, but also as a man who enslaved more than 600 people and fathered six children with one of them, Sally Hemings."
But as the commission neared its decision on the statue, several historians spoke out in defense of Jefferson's historical importance and suggested that it be relocated to another part of City Hall as an alternative. The commission ultimately delayed a final decision on where the statue would be relocated, angering some lawmakers who had called for its removal.
Assemblyman Charles Barron, a former councilman who had attempted to have the statue removed in 2001, said it should be "destroyed" rather than relocated.
"I don't think it should go anywhere. I don't think it should exist," Barron said at the hearing. "I think it should be put in storage or destroyed or whatever."
The statue, which stands on a nearly 5-foot-tall pedestal, is a plaster model of the bronze Jefferson statue on display in the United States Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. It was created by Pierre-Jean David D'Angers in 1833 and was commissioned by Uriah P. Levy, the first Jewish commodore in the United States Navy, as a monument to Jefferson's advocacy for religious freedom in the armed forces.
The statue's fate will be determined after the commission finds a suitable public location for it to be relocated to before the end of the year.