What To Do with Phil? – A 2022 Report from the Young Abolitionist Leadership Institute
Prepared for inclusion in the records of the City of Albany as disposition of the Philip Schuyler statue is determined
Following the drafting of an investigative action plan, the consideration of a variety of questions related to statues and heroes, the investigation of the historic circumstances surrounding the selection, design and installation of the Philip Schuyler statue on a small roundabout in front of Albany City Hall, the review of what other communities around the United States were doing with their statues, collection of feedback from the community, the Young Abolitionist Leadership Institute teens focusing on this matter agreed that the Philip Schuyler statue should be removed from its present location at the intersection of Eagle St. and Washington Avenue in Albany, New York and moved to a more appropriate location, with suggestions of relocation noted further on in this report, with the inclusion of a more comprehensive explanation of Philip Schuyler that includes information about his heroic deeds but also includes information about his life circumstances that provided him the opportunities to achieve what he achieved.
The question about what to do with Phil is not just about the Philip Schuyler statue. It is a question about how does New York State, and in turn its capital city, admit to its less than savory past, own up to its investment in the institution of enslavement, and work diligently to confront and change the contemporary impact of the legacy of the institution of enslavement.
DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE PROCESS LEADING TO THE ABOVE CONCLUSION
Five Albany High School teens met with two adult Focus Group Facilitators who are professional from the community who acted as guides for the student driven investigation of the topic of what to do with the Philip Schuyler Statue.
Noting that, with the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, people in communities around the country were questioning the impact of the presence of statues commemorating the institution of enslavement. Various responses were generated, from demolishing statues to removing and relocating them to reinterpreting them. Our YALI teens agreed that a proper investigation of the what to do with the Philip Schuyler statue in front of Albany City Hall should include research into such questions as why was Philip Schuyler chosen for a statue, what contributes to Schuyler being considered a hero, what was going on in Albany at the time that the statue was erected, who were the decision makers deciding that the statue should be of Philip Schuyler and should be placed in front of Albany City Hall, what makes a hero a hero, do values need to be portrayed through human images, can values be portrayed through artistic images, what is public opinion about moving the statue? YALI teens were very concerned about not canceling culture, claiming that, having their own culture canceled they did not want to do this to others.
Some additional questions posed at the beginning of the investigation included why do monuments focus more on individuals than on groups; why are there so few monuments representing Black Americans; why are there so many monuments representing war; should monuments that misrepresent history be allowed to stay up; should monuments that fail to represent our collective history be allowed to stay up; should monuments be expected to be understood by all people across time? These ideas and concerns underpinned the investigation that followed.
STEP ONE – WHAT IS HAPPENING IN OTHER COMMUNITIES
Time was spent reviewing the findings of the National Monument Audit, an investigative project conducted by Monument Lab and funded by the Mellon Foundation in 2021. Our YALI teens agreed with Monument Lab research that, “… monuments do more than just help us remember – they make our society’s values visible,” that “… monuments function as platforms for civic power and shaping public memory,” (National Monument Audit, p.4-5), and that history memorialized in statues should reflect the rich, diverse contributions of all of a community’s citizens. Monument Lab research discerned that the monument landscape is overwhelmingly white, wealthy, and male. Our YALI teens agreed that monuments are perceived as statements of power and presence in public spaces, that they often fail to do justice to our collective knowledge and experience, and that they are used to harness public memory. With these results and thoughts, YALI teens were motivated to investigate Albany’s statues and monuments. The results of their local investigation will be addressed further on in this report.
Through their research into contemporary responses to statues, monuments and namings, YALI teens learned the following:
• The community of Franklin, Tennessee, in which a confederate statue, rather than being removed as some community residents wanted, was kept in place and complemented by the sculpting of and locating in the city center a statue of a Black soldier with signage representing the US Colored troops.
• The University of Alabama removed three plaques dedicated to Confederate soldiers who attended the school.
• The Confederate monument in Hemming Park in Jacksonville, Florida was dedicated to the Jacksonville Light Infantry. Later that day Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced all Confederate memorials in the city would be removed.
• University of Edinburg has renamed the David Hume Tower because of the philosophers alleged racism.
• Imperial College London has stopped using its Latin motto, which can be translated as “scientific knowledge the crowning glory and the safeguard to the safeguard of the Empire.”
• University of Liverpool renamed its Gladstone Hall building due to the former Prime Minister’s links to slavery.
• A statue of Edward Colston, a 17th century officer of the Royal African Company who became wealthy through slave trading, was torn down in Bristol, U.K., and thrown into the same waterway where he once docked slave ships during anti-racism protests earlier this month.
• Oriel College, part of the University of Oxford, voted in favor of taking down a statue of Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes was a British imperialist whose policies historians say set the stage for apartheid in South Africa, and a major benefactor of the university.
• A figure of the Belgian King Leopold II in Antwerp was taken down after being severely damaged by anti-racism protesters who set it on fire and poured red paint all over it; since then, statues of the king have also been removed from university campuses in Mons and Leuven and an online petition to remove the king’s statue in Ostend has garnered more than 80,000 signatures. Leopold II, despite never stepping foot in the country, privately owned the Congo for two decades and was criticized during his lifetime for the cruel policies that were implemented there that historians say resulted in the deaths of upwards of 10 million Congolese people. He grew rich from rubber plantations set up in the Congo while the Congolese people were forced into slavery to work them, and if they failed to meet rubber quotas were harshly punished
by cruel methods, including having limbs cut off or even death.
• Statues of Columbus in Boston, Miami and Virginia have been vandalized.
• New York City has removed a statue of J. Marion Sims, a 19th-century gynecologist who experimented on enslaved women, from a pedestal in Central Park. The statue was moved to a cemetery in Brooklyn where Sims, sometimes called the “father of gynecology,” is buried.
While informative, YALI teens maintained that the Philip Schuyler statue did not deserve such dramatic treatment as described in some of the accounts above. As a man heavily invested in the institution of enslavement YALI teens maintained that he was able to accomplish what he is remembered for because he depended upon those enslaved to him to carry out those tasks that freed him up to focus on other matters. His accomplishments were possible because he stood on the shoulders of those who were enslaved to him. While his accomplishments may be laudable, they need to be placed alongside a more comprehensive remembrance of how he achieved those accomplishments. The contributions by those enslaved to Schuyler provided Schuyler with the freedom to pursue those activities that led to his accomplishments. YALI teens maintained that those enslaved to Schuyler should be named and memorialized in the interpretation and curation of the statue.
STEP TWO – THE HISTORIC CONTEXT FOR THE SCULPTING AND INSTALLATION OF THE PHILIP SCHUYLER STATUE
Through research in 1920’s Albany newspapers, with the assistance of Albany Public Library librarians, YALI students were able to learn about the origination of the Philip Schuyler statue. It was determined by a group of three men, Albany Mayor William S. Hackett, former governor Martin H. Glynn, former judge William E. Wollard, that George Hawley be given permission to commission the sculpting of a statue of General Philip Schuyler by New York City sculptor J. Massey Rhind and was to be placed at its current location on a small island in front of Albany City Hall in memory of Theodora Hawley, George Hawley’s deceased wife. Mr. Hawley covered all costs for the statue’s design, sculpting, and installation. He was revered for this major donation to the City of Albany. It was recorded that Hawley combined in the Schuyler statue a “… passion for beautifying the City with an ardent hobby of studying Revolutionary history.” (The Argus, Tuesday morning, November 10, 1903) Charles H. Johnson, a prominent Albany resident, is recorded as commenting that “…the statue was the best, the figure of Schuyler would capture the attention of millions and would be an eloquent reminder of the duties of manhood and obligations of citizenship.” (Albany Knickerbocker Press, 1925, “Thousands Brave Downpour while City Receives Statue of General Philip Schuyler”)
The YALI teens wondered why a male statue reminding viewers of the duties of manhood and citizenship was determined to be appropriate to honor a woman. They asked but could find no answers to who was Theodora Hawley and what did she do to be deserving of a memorial. They also wondered why the location of the statue was at such an isolated location. Certainly the statue is visible while moving down Washington Avenue toward City Hall, but there were other locations easily accessible by pedestrians that would allow for easy, safe access to the statue and the plaque beneath the plinth.
STEP THREE – WHAT OTHER STATUES AND MONUMENTS EXIST IN ALBANY AND WHOSE MEMORY DO THEY COMMEMORATE
Before making recommendations on what to do with Phil, YALI teens wanted to take a look at what statues and monuments currently reside in Albany and collect information on who and what was memorialized in them. While available time for this analysis was limited, preventing the teens from examining all monuments and statues in the city of Albany, 17 statues and monuments were visited. Of these 17, only three incorporated images of Black Americans, only one incorporated an image of a Black woman, five were dedicated to men and women, and only three memorialized something other than war.
STEP FOUR – WHAT TO DO WITH PHIL – REFLECTIONS
As the YALI teens considered an agreed upon response to this question, they recognized that the location of the statue on its grassy island contributed to a safety hazard for both vehicles and pedestrians, that the statue in the form of Philip Schuyler represented some laudable behaviors that could be models for others, that there are many other individuals who could be memorialized as modeling values held in high esteem by the community, and that Philip Schuyler represented an unjust system of bondage that viewed People of Color as commodities. While some would claim that Schuyler worked to abolish enslavement in New York State, historic documentation supporting this claim is unclear. The stain of enslavement is clearly documented in the historic record.
Albany City Hall is a building that should be welcoming to all who live in the city. Can it truly be a place of welcome when the prominent reminder of valued attributes is exclusive rather than inclusive? For some the presence of the Schuyler statue is a reminder of great achievements, for others the Schuyler statue is a reminder of a federally sanctioned institution of bondage in which New York State was heavily invested and from which is profited. Some claim that Schuyler was fighting for freedom, but the question must be asked, freedom for whom? Others maintain that Schuyler owning other human beings was just the way of things in a previous era. Does that make enslavement acceptable?
STEP FIVE – WHAT TO DO WITH PHIL – RECOMMENDATIONS
Moving Phil to a more appropriate location is the recommendation of the Young Abolitionist Leadership Institute teens. In their research they learned that as long ago as 1952 there were recommendations for moving the Schuyler statue. Some of the reasons for relocating the statue include the statue being located in a place where there were, and to this day still are, no parking and directional signs, and the recognition that the statue cannot be admired without dangerous jaywalking to reach the statue. It was proposed that the statue be moved to the mall between the New York State Capitol and the Alfred E. Smith Building and that the unnamed mall be christened Schuyler Park. (The Times Union, Albany, NY; Sunday, June 1, 1952, “New Home Needed: Traffic Isolates Schuyler Statue”) It was also noted in this article that as the Schuyler statue was a gift to the City of Albany that transferring the statue to New York State could entail legal complications.
YALI teens considered moving the statue to the Schuyler Mansion property in Albany’s south end but recognized that this would entail a complicated process as the Schuyler Mansion is state property. Moving the statue to the Schuyler House in Schuylerville would be additionally complicated as the Schuylerville property is part of Saratoga National Historical Park which is owned by the National Park Service. Schuyler Flatts Park was considered, but this property resides in the Watervliet. Albany Rural Cemetery was also considered as General Philip Schuyler is buried there, however, there is already a burial monument located there. It was decided that relocating the statue should result in the statue remaining in the City of Albany and being in a place where there is a public presence of and safe access to the statue and space for a
comprehensive interpretation of General Schuyler’s contributions and shortcomings.
The teens were particularly interested in the 1952 recommendation to relocate the statue to the mall between the Capitol and the Alfred E. Smith building. This is a public space which is frequented by people working in the area, conducting business at the municipal and commercial buildings in the area, participating in organized gatherings in this space and merely visiting the lovely green space. Renaming the mall Schuyler Park was of interest but not overwhelmingly so as the teens felt that the statue was sufficient acknowledgement of Schuyler. The teens recommend that this mall space be named The People’s Park and that over time additional modest statues, monuments and artistic sculptures be added to People’s Park which would celebrate and commemorate the contributions of Albany’s diverse and rich heritage. An alternative location would be Academy Park. An additional recommendation is for the City of Albany website to host a Statue and Monuments and Sculpture page to which interested individuals could go to learn more detailed information about each of the sculptures, monuments and statues located throughout the city.
In closing, our YALI teens remind us that our city statues, monuments, and sculptures should communicate, demonstrate, and speak to who we are as a city, portray what is valued by our city, and celebrate all who have and continue to contribute to the health and wellbeing of our city.
The Young Abolitionist Leadership Institute teens who participated in the What to Do with Phil?
Focus Group that met afterschool from October 2021 through June 2022 would like to thank
Mayor Kathy Sheehan for calling upon them to delve into this matter and offer this report as a
recommendation on what to do with the General Philip Schuyler statue. They appreciate her
valuing their effort, their research, and their voice. They respectfully submit this report in
October 2022 with the hope that it will result in an actionable response to the question, what
to do with Phil? YALI teens who participated in this Focus Group include Junique Huggins,
Raymond Reynoso, Fran’Zhane Gopaulsingh, Jaidyn Rogers, and Franz Gopaulsingh.
Included with this report are scans of community responses to this matter. One is from Albany
Resident Bob Ward who recommends and details out the formation of a Public Monuments
Commission While the students had initially planned to hold focus group conversations in
various parts of the City, the continued presence of COVID’s impact resulted in not holding
these community meetings.
Public Responses to the question of what to do with Phil –
• Should I stay or should I go? He Philp Schuyler Affair (TU, 6.13.20)
• The Society of the Cincinnati (Letter, 6.26.20)
• How Cities in the American North Can Reckon with their Monuments (New Yorker, 10.22.21)
• We become what we behold – the power of monuments (Altamont Enterprise, 10.27.21)
• Churchill: Two Years Later, Philip Schuyler is Still Standing (TU, 5.11.22)
• Horrors of Slavery Make Distinction Meaningless (TU, 6.06.22)
• Commentary: Albany has bigger issues than Schuyler’s statue (TU, 7.14.22)
• Remarks from a Hawley descendant (10.12.22)
Action response recommendation –
• Public Monuments Commission proposal for the City of Albany