Another ‘racist’ statue could be toppled in New Jersey
A coalition of professors and students is pressing Princeton University to remove a landmark statue from the campus grounds.
For 21 years, a 10-foot tall bronze statue of former university president John Witherspoon has sat atop a 7-foot perch and towered over passing students and visitors as they walk down Chancellor Way and through Firestone Plaza. It stands almost directly across form the Princeton University Chapel.
Witherspoon is a former pastor and signer of the Declaration of Independence. He is credited with establishing many of the educational standards and traditions that has made Princeton University one of the most renowned institutes of higher learning in the world.
John Witherspoon also owned slaves that worked on his 500-acre farm.
That, petitioners say, is “shocking and upsetting” and a “distraction from the University's mission.
They want the statue removed, and a plaque installed in its place acknowledging Witherspoon’s contributions, but also noting his support of slavery.
What is good in John Witherspoon’s legacy, in particular the care he took for the growth of the University, will remain with us whether or not he has a statue. We are confident that the University wishes to remember its history rightly and with an eye to its future mission, and it is in this spirit that we recommend that the statue of Witherspoon be removed from Firestone Plaza and an informational plaque be put in its place. - Petition calling for the removal of John Witherspoon statue
“Witherspoon’s active participation in such a way of life, stands at odds with the natural instinct to give honor to such a statue,” the petition reads, “Regardless of our evaluation of Witherspoon’s moral standing given his time and context, the issue of the race-based enslavement of human beings presents a rupture between us and John Witherspoon.”
Input from the public will be considered as campus leaders decide whether to remove the statue. The decision, the university says, will be “informed by rigorous research and the appropriate scholarly expertise.”
In 2020, Princeton stripped former president Woodrow Wilson’s name from its school of public policy due to his racist views. At the time, Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber said Wilson’s ““racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school or college whose scholars, students and alumni must stand firmly against racism in all its forms.”
Statues of individuals who owned slaves, supported slavery, held racist views or were viewed as oppressors started coming down across the U.S. in the wake of the George Floyd murder.
In New Jersey, several statues of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus have been removed over evidence Columbus enslaved and killed Native Americans.
Newark, Trenton, Camden and West Orange removed Columbus statues.