Stockton U. removes statue of slaveholder namesake

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Aerial view of the Stockton University campus.

South Jersey’s Stockton University has removed a bust of its namesake, Richard Stockton, who was a slaveholder as well as 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 Atlantic City Press reported.

The Press quoted the university’s president, Harvey Kesselman, as saying the debate over the bust had been going on for several years but that its removal was 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 Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va.

Camera icon MEL EVANS / AP
Harvey Kesselman, president of Stockton University.

Stockton’s action came as another area school, Bryn Mawr College, is taking steps to distance itself from M. Carey Thomas, a leading suffragist and perhaps its 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 was temporary, and that there are plans to incorporate it in an exhibit that will show Richard Stockton’s role from a more historical perspective.

Dylan Perry, a senior from Upper Township, Cape May County, 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  New Jersey delegate to the Second Continental Congress who also  served as a trustee of what is now known as Princeton University.

Like a number of 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 about 12,000 inmates. Released on parole in February 1777 after renouncing politics to gain his freedom, Stockton never fully recovered from his prison ordeal. He died of cancer in 1781.