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NYC Council wants to tear down Washington and Jefferson statues

By Jake Beardslee · September 19, 2023

In brief…

  • New York City's Council is advancing a proposal to remove statues and art on city property depicting historical figures such as George Washington and Christopher Columbus.
  • Critics strongly oppose the plan, accusing the Council of promoting cancel culture and attempting to unjustly rewrite history.
  • Previous efforts to remove historical artwork faced significant backlash from those arguing the monuments should be preserved.
The New York City Council is facing srong backlash for a proposal to remove statues of Washington, Jefferson, Columbus, and others.  Zachary V. Sunderman/Wikimedia

New York’s City Council is moving forward with a proposal to remove statues and art on city property that honor historical figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Peter Stuyvesant and Christopher Columbus.

The council’s Cultural Affairs Committee will hold a public hearing Tuesday on legislation that would create a process to remove monuments of people who “owned enslaved persons or directly benefited economically from slavery” or who “participated in systemic crimes against indigenous peoples.” 

Critics have strongly denounced the proposal, labeling it an extreme example of cancel culture. Angelo Vivolo, President of the Columbus Heritage Coalition, vowed to fight any attempt to take down monuments of Columbus, stating: “Columbus was a migrant!” A statue of Columbus stands prominently at Columbus Circle.

The legislation would require the city’s Public Design Commission to publish a plan for removing controversial monuments. In instances where the commission votes not to conduct a removal, it would be required to install an “explanatory plaque” about the figure’s perceived misdeeds. The city would also have to place explanatory sidewalk plaques near schools named after such figures.  

Statues honoring Washington, America’s first president, stand in multiple locations, including Washington Square and Union Square Parks.

Peter Stuyvesant, an early Dutch New York settler, is portrayed in a statue in a park named after him. A housing development and a prominent high school also bear his name. Other slaveholders such as John Jay and Dewitt Clinton have schools named for them.

Council Republican Minority Leader Joe Borelli criticized the effort, saying: “How original. The Council is good for a statue-banning committee every year or so, second only to our annual ‘cars are bad’ hearing.”

The council previously removed a statue of Thomas Jefferson from City Hall due to his slaveholding, but efforts to more broadly reassess controversial monuments have faced backlash from those who argue the plan aims to unjustly rewrite history.