New York City lawmakers have voted to remove a statue of Thomas Jefferson, one of the United States’ founding fathers, from the council chambers because of his slave-owning past.
The move comes amid fierce debate in the United States, following last year’s widespread racial justice protests, over what to do with monuments deemed offensive to minority groups.
Many activists say statues of some historical figures are symbols of systemic racism. Historians tend to argue that the figures themselves were complex and shouldn’t be airbrushed from America’s history. Latino and Black council members in New York have for years demanded the removal of the seven-foot Jefferson statue, which was commissioned in 1833. Their push was given impetus by last year’s nationwide racial justice protests following the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis. City officials voted unanimously on Monday to remove the statue from council chambers, but delayed a decision on where to put it. The statue is expected to be moved to the New York Historical Society museum. Jefferson was the main author of the Declaration of Independence but like many of America’s founding fathers he owned slaves. He held more than 600 slaves on his plantation in Virginia and fathered six children with one of them. The third US president “embodies some of the most shameful parts of our country’s history,” councilwoman Adrienne Adams told the hearing, The New York Times reported. Last year’s Black Lives Matter protests saw demonstrators topple a number of statues of figures with racist legacies, many of them Confederate generals, colonial figures and slave traders. The demonstrations also resulted in officials pledging to take down divisive monuments.
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