Stockton U. removes statue of slaveholder namesake

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South Jersey’s Stockton University reportedly has removed a bust of its namesake, Richard Stockton, who was a slaveholder and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The bust, which had been on display at the Richard E. Bjork Library, was removed on Wednesday, the Press of Atlantic City reports.

The Press quotes the university’s president, Harvey Kesselman, as saying the debate over the bust has been going on for several years but its removal is relevant in view of the recent spate of protests over statues of controversial historical figures, including the rally by white nationalists to save a monument to Robert E. Lee that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va.

Camera icon MEL EVANS / AP

Harvey Kesselman the current president of Stockton University during an April, 2015 address to the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Stockton’s action comes as another area school, Bryn Mawr College, is taking steps to distance itself from  M. Carey Thomas, a leading suffragist and perhaps the school’s most influential president, citing her racist and anti-Semitic views.

Lori Vermeulen, Stockton’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, said Thursday in a letter to the campus community that the bust’s removal is temporary, and that there are plans to incorporate it in an exhibit that is being developed that will show Richard Stockton’s role as a controversial figure from a more historical perspective.

Dylan Perry, a senior from Upper Township, told the Press the removal of the bust struck him as “an overreaction.”

“The real problem in our nation is not statues of historical figures,” Perry said. “Rather, the problem is that we have people in our nation with hate in their hearts. I understand we are in a PC era, but removing statues will not change things. Rather, addressing the feelings that caused those statues to be removed would be a good plan going forward.”

The university opened in 1971 and was named after Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from New Jersey who served as a trustee of what is now known as Princeton University.

Like most signers of the Declaration, including Thomas Jefferson, he owned slaves.

In November 1776, while on a mission for the Second Continental Congress, he was captured by the British and held on a prison ship in New York, where cruel conditions led to the deaths of some 12,000 inmates. Released on parole in February 1777, Stockton never recovered from his prison ordeal and he died in 1781.

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