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Thomas Jefferson statue to be removed from New York City Hall

The New York City Public Design Commission voted unanimously to remove the statue from the council chamber before 2022.
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A statue of Thomas Jefferson that stands over New York City Hall's council chamber will be removed after a city commission vote Monday.

The New York City Public Design Commission voted unanimously to move the statue to a public location, yet to be determined, before the end of the year. Efforts to remove the statue of the third president — who owned about 130 slaves when he died in 1826 — were renewed during the nationwide racial reckoning that followed the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.

The original proposal, to move the statue to the New York Historical Society, was modified after testimony at the meeting raised questions about access to the publicly owned artwork at a private museum that charges admission.

The Black, Latino and Asian Caucus of the New York City Council decried the delay, saying the commission "voted to prolong the indignity" of Jefferson's prominent place.

The Public Design Commission and the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asked about the statue Thursday at his daily news briefing, de Blasio said he understood why Jefferson's history as a slave owner "profoundly bothers people and why they find it's something that can't be ignored."

The 1833 plaster statue is a 7-foot-tall replica of a bronze piece by Pierre-Jean David D'Algers, which sits in the U.S. Capitol. The plaster replica has been in the council chamber since 1915.

Uriah Philips Levy, the first Jewish commodore of the Navy, commissioned the bronze statue and its plaster replica to honor Jefferson in part because he fought for religious freedom in the armed forces, the design commission said in its presentation.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson spearheaded the effort to remove the statue in the summer of 2020 with a letter to de Blasio. Johnson wrote that he and Black, Latino and Asian members of the City Council found it "inappropriate."

"There are disturbing images of divisiveness and racism in our City that need to be revisited immediately," the letter read. "That starts with City Hall."

Council member Adrienne Adams said she "immediately noticed the statue of Thomas Jefferson" after she was elected, saying it is one of the "most prominent" statues in the chamber.

"He ... compared the very idea of freeing slaves from captivity to abandoning children," she said, noting that Jefferson fathered children with a teenage enslaved woman, Sally Hemmings.

Testifying in favor of the removal, council member Inez Barron said slaveholders acted as a sort of "pimp" so plantations could be expanded and profits could "be increased."

She also said Jefferson enacted some of the first removal measures against Native Americans, contributing to the "ethnic cleansing and genocidal replacement" of Indigenous people.

"We are not being revisionist. We are not waging a war on history. We are saying that we want to make sure that the total story is told, that there are no half-truths and that we are not perpetuating lies," Barron said.

CORRECTION (Oct. 19, 2021, 1:15 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio about the statue. He sent the letter in the summer of 2020, not last summer.