Two decades ago, New York State Assembly Member Charles Barron (then a City Councilmember) rebuked a statue of Thomas Jefferson, and the portraits of exclusively white leaders, that graced the chambers of the New York City Hall.
After a long fight, other elected officials have joined him to remove Jefferson’s 7-foot likeness— which was erected in City Hall in 1834— from the Council chambers.
Amid a year of public battles to rid public spaces of racist, rightwing rebels in the Confederacy, New York City has acknowledged that even one of its Founding Fathers was problematic.
New York City’s Public Design Commission voted unanimously on Monday to remove Jefferson’s statue and held a hearing to determine where the statue should be relocated, but not before public testimony shed a light on his racist legacy.
“We want to make sure that the total story is told. That there are no half-truths and that we are perpetrating lies” of Thomas Jefferson, said Councilmember Inez Barron, the wife of Assemblymember Barron who continued his fight.
“He was a slave-holding pedophile that should not be honored with a statue,” Mr. Barron opened up his remarks bluntly. “He should be written in the history books, not transferred to the historical society.”
Barron was referring to the city’s oldest museum, the New-York Historical Society in Manhattan, where design members have considered relocating the statue.
The latest calls to remove Jefferson’s plaster model come after the City Council’s Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus raised the issue last year on the eve of Juneteenth in a letter addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“The statue of Thomas Jefferson in the City Council Chambers is inappropriate and serves as a constant reminder of the injustices that have plagued communities of color since the inception of our country. It must be removed,” the letter stated.
“Jefferson is America’s most noted slave holder, a man who owned more than 600 Black women and men and a scholar who maintained that Blacks were inferior to whites,” the letter continued.
The design commission has yet to decide on the new location of the statue, but it anticipates making the decision by the end of the year.