New York city hall removes Thomas Jefferson statue

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<span>Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

A statue of Thomas Jefferson has been removed from city hall in New York, because the founder and third president enslaved people.

A work crew spent several hours on Monday freeing the 884lb, 7ft statue from its pedestal in the council chambers and carefully maneuvering it into a padded wooden crate, for the short journey to the New York Historical Society.

The city public design commission, whose members are appointed by the mayor, Bill de Blasio, voted earlier in the day to exile the statue, sculpted in 1833, to the society on a 10-year loan.

Some members wanted it to remain on public display instead of standing in the lobby of a venue, on Central Park West, that charges $22 admission, the New York Post reported.

The decision to remove the statue was made earlier this year, after a period of introspection in the wake of neo-Nazi disturbances in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

Yet historians were already changing their opinions of Jefferson, long thought of as a benevolent owner of about 600 enslaved people. A 2012 portrait in Smithsonian magazine highlighted the darker side of a man who described the slave trade, in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, as an “execrable commerce” and an “assemblage of horrors”.

In 2000, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation conceded there was “a high probability” that he fathered children with enslaved people at his Monticello plantation, near Charlottesville.

There has been lively public debate over the fate of the New York statue, which was crafted by the French artist Pierre-Jeanne David d’Angers as a model for a bronze statue on display in the US Capitol rotunda.

Moves by Black and Latino council members to have the statue removed gained traction amid a national reckoning over racism and controversial historical figures, leading to the removal of memorials elsewhere.

In July, activists celebrated the toppling of a statue in Charlottesville of the Confederate general Robert E Lee, once a rallying point for white supremacists.

In New York, opinions are mixed about the removal of the Jefferson statue.

Charles Barron, a member of the New York assembly and a former council member, told the New York Times: “It should be destroyed. A statue should be for those who we honor for their exemplary service and duty to all of this country, not just the white race.”

But Michele Bogart, professor emeritus of art history at Stony Brook University, said the statue’s removal “deflects attention” from the actions of such controversial figures.

“I have a philosophical problem with removing it from city hall,” she said. “If you can remove the Thomas Jefferson statue, then you can remove works from other city buildings.”

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