Schuylerville, NY – Congresswoman Elise Stefanik statement:
As a proud resident and the Congressional Representative of Schuylerville in Saratoga County, I am deeply opposed to Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan's recent executive action to take down the historic statue of Revolutionary War hero Philip Schuyler. I have the honor of living in the historic cradle of the Revolutionary War - just minutes away from the Saratoga Battlefield and the Schuyler House - important sites that our community has worked hard to preserve, commemorate, and honor our region and founding leaders.
Growing up in Upstate New York as a student at Albany Academy for Girls, I vividly remember participating in a Middle School project called "Project Albany" where we were assigned various historic sites to research. My student group was assigned Schuyler Mansion - and even at that young age, we learned not only about how the Schuyler family lived, their family's military service, and the important role Philip Schuyler played in providing critical financing for the Revolution, but we also learned about the family's deeply disturbing use of slavery.
This was an important lesson at a young age that our American history is simultaneously exceptional and complex. It is true that the United States of America has been blessed with extraordinary leaders - especially our founding generation who envisioned the world's greatest experiment of a nation based on the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is also true that like all leaders, our founding visionaries like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Philip Schuyler, had deep imperfections including the inhumane embrace of slavery.
Interestingly, when my younger brother was in Middle School, he was also assigned a similar project, but he could choose to study any historically important figure in Albany. After researching, he chose to highlight the lesser-known local figure Henry Johnson, an African-American hero who served in the U.S. Army in World War I. Private Henry Johnson served on the Western Front in France where he fought off a German raid in hand-to-hand combat, saving fellow soldiers' lives while being wounded. I remember discussing this project with my brother and parents at the dinner table as my brother reflected that it was wrong that Private Johnson was not honored and was overlooked by the arc and authors of our national, state, and local history. It took almost 100 years for the United States to bestow Private Henry Johnson with his belated and deserved Medal of Honor. Years after learning about Private Henry Johnson from my brother at our kitchen table, I was honored to attend the historic and overdue ceremony at the White House at President Obama's invitation in 2015 as a newly elected Member of Congress from Upstate New York.
The vibrant fabric of our history is rich with extraordinary, yet flawed leaders and disturbing chapters. The horrific tragedy of George Floyd's death has caused the nation to reflect on our own historical challenges and to grieve as fellow Americans. This tragic event has opened a wide-ranging dialogue on our past and how we honor it. It is clear our history must be further enriched through the recognition and honoring of African American contributions to our nation that have been unjustly and inexcusably overlooked, forgotten, or unrecognized. We must work together to continue to ensure their important stories are told vividly like our monuments of Founding Fathers.
Mayor Sheehan's short-sighted announcement to take down the statue of Philip Schuyler in Albany is an example of the reactionary actions we are seeing in other areas of the country in place of meaningful policy reforms. Rather than taking down statues and seeking to erase important chapters in our Nation's Revolutionary history as Mayor Kathy Sheehan proposes, our policy makers should be focused on enacting real and meaningful policy changes at the local, state, and federal level to ensure we eliminate racism and specifically address strengthening our law enforcement relations with our community. If Mayor Kathy Sheehan removes the statue of Philip Schuyler, our local bipartisan community leaders in Schuylerville will welcome the statue here as an opportunity to commemorate his role in our nation's founding with appropriate historical context.