NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Mayor Bill de Blasio named a commission Friday to identify areas where discrimination continues to manifest itself in the city. One of its tasks will be to re-examine the appropriateness of statues and building dedications.
As CBS2's political reporter Marcia Kramer explains, the home where Mayor de Blasio and his family live could be in for a name change because first lady Chirlane McCray discovered that Gracie Mansion was built in 1799 by people who were enslaved and indentured servants.
"Although [Archibald] Gracie held membership in New York's Manumission Society, whose mission was to end slavery, I found out only yesterday that Archibald Gracie held in bondage three Americans named Sarah, Abrahm and Charles Short," she said.
"Our city has a lot to be proud of in terms of being a place where everyone could come together and do something different. But our city also has a very painful history," de Blasio said. "Slavery was alive and well in New York City for a long time. New York City gained much of its prominence and wealth from slavery. Redlining, discrimination of every form existed here in liberal, progressive New York City for generations, and in too many ways discrimination is alive and well today.
"Structural racism pervades this city in ways that are still not acknowledged and recognized," he added. "We have to change that."
The mayor said that a new Commission on Racial Justice and Reconciliation, chaired by the first lady and Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson, will examine whether to rename Gracie Mansion, and whether statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson should be removed from City Hall.
The City Council has asked the mayor to remove Jefferson from its chamber.
The move threaten to reignite the controversy over the Christopher Columbus statues in the city. Angelo Vivolo, the head of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, says the fate of the statues has already been decided and litigated.
"Any defacing of a statue of Columbus in my view is a hate crime. It's a hate crime against Italian Americans and our civil rights," he said.
"Part of what we have to do I think it's not just tear down statues but construct new ones," said Thompson.
Thompson suggested the possibility of erecting a statue to revolutionary General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, for whom the bridge is named. He pointed out that the general fought against slavery.
Mayor de Blasio says the new commission's charter is to examine discrimination in housing, criminal justice, education and more.
"The commission is designed to provide New Yorkers a platform to voice their experiences. It will also promote social learning, collective introspection and other measures to tear down the barriers to true equality," McCray said.
"So much of the life of this city, the physical reality of this city was built upon the racist precepts of an architect and builder and a government official named Robert Moses," said Mayor de Blasio. "And the fact that we live in a physical reality that was explicitly created to divide and segregate is an example of how much we have to examine and undo."
Last week, Thompson called for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's name to be removed from a street at Fort Hamilton, saying his ancestors were enslaved on a plantation owned by Lee's father.
The mayor said he would also make Juneteenth a holiday for New York City workers and students beginning next year.
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