Eric Adams wants to rename NYC streets and buildings that honor slave owners

Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams wants to rename most city streets and buildings that honor slave owners.

“As many as possible,” Adams said Friday when asked if he’d commit to changing every offending street and building.

“We have to clean up our history,” the Brooklyn borough president continued after an event Friday honoring the pioneering Black journalist Ida B. Wells. Adams joined Wells’ family members to unveil a new portrait of the late crusader at Borough Hall.

“We can’t have children walk into school buildings that are named after slave owners. We need to look at some of the street names and then we need to diversify,” Adams said.

“We want to ensure that Borough Hall and City Hall, and all of these buildings are really diverse,” he added.

While the likely next mayor did not give any examples, major city sites are named after long-dead slave owners including Washington Square Park. The park’s namesake and the country’s first president, George Washington, became a slave owner at age 11 after his father died.

Eric Adams unveiled an Ida B. Wells portrait to be placed at Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Eric Adams unveiled an Ida B. Wells portrait to be placed at Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Paul Martinka

Adams himself lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn that honors the Dutch colonial director general Peter Stuyvesant who enslaved up to 30 people on his 62-acre Manhattan estate. Aside for the neighborhood, there’s a Stuyvesant Avenue in Brooklyn, a Stuyvesant Street in Manhattan and the elite public high school Stuyvesant.

A recent article in New York magazine looked at the difficulty of erasing slaveholder names from the cityscape. Much of it is also outside of a mayor’s control and involves the City Council, community boards and general public. And private buildings are out of City Hall’s reach.

“Altering whom the city celebrates on its street signs and in public places will require cutting through layers of procedural red tape, and even then, it probably isn’t possible to strip the city completely of its nods to New York slave owners,” the piece concluded.

Washington Square Park is named after the nation's first president, who owned slaves.
Washington Square Park is named after the nation’s first president, who owned slaves.
Christopher Sadowski

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