The statue of Thomas Jefferson on the Hofstra University campus.

The statue of Thomas Jefferson on the Hofstra University campus. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hofstra University has moved a controversial statue of founding father Thomas Jefferson — a decision sparked by the nation's cultural reckoning with racism following George Floyd's killing in police custody in Minneapolis and two years after a failed student-led effort to remove the monument.

In a note to students earlier Tuesday, Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz said the statue would be relocated from the main entrance to the Student Center to the west side of the Emily Lowe Museum, where it will continue to be accessible to the public. University officials said the transfer was completed later on Tuesday.

"Institutions, like people, evolve, and come to new understandings based on the work and words of activists and leaders," Rabinowitz said. "It has become clear to all of us that the pain of our black students and citizens in regards to the symbols and representation of our national history is substantial. 

"Thomas Jefferson has long stood at the entrance to the Student Center, the primary campus thoroughfare for students. But over the past few years, the placement of the Jefferson statue, and the history it represents, has been a reminder and consistent source of pain for many of our black students and allies," Rabinowitz said.

In 1998, DNA evidence indicated Jefferson, the nation's third president, fathered several children with Sally Hemmings, a slave he owned.

Hofstra's decision to move the statue, officials said, was sparked by the university's Committee on Representation in Public Spaces, in reaction to protests across the country in the wake of Floyd's death.

The committee, chaired by Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Margaret Abraham and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Cornell Craig, unanimously recommended that the statue be relocated. Rabinowitz and Hofstra's board of trustees approved the relocation.

The statue, donated to Hofstra in 1999 by David S. Mack, a Kings Point real estate developer, has been the subject of protests dating back to 2004.

In March 2018, organizers launched online petitions and held a campus protest demanding the statue be moved, arguing that African-American students should not be forced to pass a statue of a man who owned hundreds of slaves. Supporters of the statue argued at the time that while Jefferson might have been flawed, he helped establish American independence. 

The university later decided that the statue would remain in place but established a task force to address the students' concerns.

A Change.org petition established Tuesday and signed by nearly 700 people argues that the statue should be completely removed from the Hofstra campus and not relocated.

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