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NYC leaders considering ways to tell whole story on explorers and historical figures honored with monuments

NYC considering ways to tell whole story on explorers and historical figures honored with statues
NYC considering ways to tell whole story on explorers and historical figures honored with statues 02:13

NEW YORK -- From George Washington to Christopher Columbus, new questions are being raised about the future of some New York City monuments.

It's one of several controversial measures being considered by city leaders.

"The purpose of today was to really catalog all the different bills that we have currently that have something to do with reconciliation, equity, repairing the harms that have been done to Black people in this city and indigenous people in the city," City Councilwoman Nantasha Williams said.

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The city's Cultural Affairs Committee held a hearing Tuesday at City Hall to discuss if monuments like the Christopher Columbus statue at Columbus Circle, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson statues at Washington Square Park, and Peter Stuyvesant figure at Stuyvesant Square should be removed from city streets due to their controversial pasts, or stay up with explanation.

"Not just what we like to celebrate them for, but what other things did they do to harm certain people," Williams said.

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The bill would require the city to remove works of art on city property that depict a person who owned enslaved people, directly benefited economically from slavery, or participated in systemic crimes against indigenous people and humanity.

The bill also suggests if the statues aren't removed, an explanatory plaque next to the work of art would be needed.

"We have to acknowledge that there are figures that contribute to our city and state, but we also have to acknowledge that they did harm to our communities," Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages said.

Back in 2021, the 7-foot Thomas Jefferson statue that sat inside City Hall for 187 years was removed due to the third U.S. president's history as a slave owner.

"We understand the history and legacy of this country, so how many are we gonna take down?" said Devine Prince of the United States Freedmen Project.

The City Council is also considering a freedom trail and reparations task force.

"My only concern is that we do it correct, and the correct way to do that is to have cumulative eligibility completely and thoroughly defined," Prince said.

Many New Yorkers say it's important to tell the whole story, without erasing, canceling or rewriting America's history.

"You need to contextualize it," said Jacob Morris, of the Harlem Historical Society.

City leaders say they will continue to work with the mayor and New Yorkers to make sure the next steps are fair for everyone.

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