NY City Proposes Public Monuments Bill With a Context on Slavery

NY City Proposes a Bill on Public Monuments and Art and Supposedly Should Add Context to Slavery and Other Non-Human Crimes.

Oct 10, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Charlottesville Museum, NY city
The transfer of the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Photo: John McDonnell


NY city proposes a bill on public monuments and art, connected to slavery and other crimes against humanity. Overall, the goal of The New York City Council is to give context to history of these “events”. The process requires the work of the Public Design Commission (PDC). The commission may decide to either take the artwork down or erect an inscription explaining why it might be troublesome.


The NY City Bill Also Applies to Schools

NY City, Christopher Columbus
The monument to Christopher Columbus, Columbus Circle, Manhattan, New York City. Dea/Archivio J. Lange/De Agostini via Getty Images


The bill would require the Public Design Commission (PDC) to locate “works of art on City property that depict a person who owned enslaved persons or directly benefitted economically from slavery, or who participated in systemic crimes against indigenous peoples or other crimes against humanity”. The New York City Council Legislative Research Center explained the process.


The suggested bill’s range also covers school names. Sandra Nurse of the 37th City Council District in Brooklyn was among the legislation’s 18 supporters. She participated in the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 together with thousands of other activists and marchers from New York. The law, according to Nurse, represents a change in her perspective and strategy for tackling racism.


A decapitated statue of Christopher Columbus
A decapitated statue of Christopher Columbus stands in Christopher Columbus Park in Boston, June 10, 2020. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images


Also, racism’s past in New York city. “I wanted to go out there and be part of toppling something [in 2020]”, Nurse said, whereas now, “as a legislator I have to look at what the law can do”. The Gothamist organization, which spoke to Nurse, explained approach is consistent with what academics and politicians referred to as a “subtle shift”. Representatives in communities of color are urging for clarity and education rather than fury and devastation inside those areas.

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The Thorough Investigation of Monuments

statue of liberty
Statue of Liberty, 2010, via Wikimedia Commons


Cynthia Copeland, a public historian who previously served as co-chair of the Reparations Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of New York also spoke to the organization. She said that she she believes “the temperature has come down. We are at a point where there has been some distance and I think that people have sort of taken a breath”. The legislation presents a practical hurdle for this municipality, which holds 2,500 artworks, should it succeed.


To determine whether a work may be seen as insulting, each would need to be carefully examined. Also, their histories would need to be thoroughly investigated. The city’s PDC would be in charge of overseeing the mammoth project. It has jurisdiction over “City-owned property in general”. It includes “maintenance, repair, removal, relocation or alteration of works of art” and “Advisory oversight of works of art”, according to the city’s website.


Biggie Smalls
Biggie Smalls monument. Photo by Noemie Trusty


The removal of statues and monuments is a complex topic that is frequently rife with sentiment and loaded cultural identity. According to Copeland, retaining contentious landmarks would benefit the town and greatly enlighten its residents, especially with the context that the proposed bill might add.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.