Posted on January 16, 2023

Thomas Jefferson’s Name Does Not Belong in Harlem, Local Pol Says

Gus Saltonstall, Patch, January 12, 2023

Assembly Member Eddie Gibbs spent his childhood swimming, barbecuing and playing in Harlem’s Thomas Jefferson Park, and that’s why he wants the kids of Harlem to give it a new name.

“We want that park to be named after someone we can actually look up to, someone that can inspire us to be better,” Gibbs told Patch. “We know Thomas Jefferson was a great founder and president, but he wasn’t great to the African American community.”

Gibbs is spearheading an initiative to rename two Harlem community centers that bare Jefferson’s name— the park on First Avenue and East 111th Street and the NYCHA housing development blocks away on Third Avenue and East 115th Street — and putting the decision in the hands of the community, the Assembly member told Patch this week.

To that end, Gibbs is hosting an essay contest for Harlem students to submit new names for the beloved park, and has already received proposals to honor the indigenous people who first lived in New York, a human rights organization that fought to empower colonized people, and Frederick Douglass.

“We should rename Jefferson Park to FD Park,” wrote a student at middle school P.S. 206.

“FD stands for Frederick Douglass because he was born a slave and was able to get out of slavery. Compared to Thomas Jefferson, who had slaves, he sold them, and he abused them.”

Gibbs said he was also inspired by local community members who witnessed the removal of the Thomas Jefferson statue from City Hall in 2021 — multiple schools in New Jersey and Virginia have also removed the name — and wanted to know why it shouldn’t happen in Harlem.

“When are we going to do it here in our community?'” locals asked Gibbs. “I started thinking, ‘They’re right.'”