Re-thinking Statue Of Peter Stuyvesant


Re: “Should New York City Remove Statues Of Its Anti-Semitic Dutch Governor?” (Aug. 25).

How shall we recall Peter Stuyvesant, the 17th-century Dutch Colonial governor of New Amsterdam (later New York)? We look back on centuries that have left behind too many public anti-Semites and too little time to erase or marginalize their individual imprint. The virus of anti-Semitism has many forms, but while some bigots are too vestigial to merit the time and effort to remove their images, attention must be paid when old statues are given new or renewed meaning by present-day trolls.

In Peter Stuyvesant, we at least have an example of an important strain of anti-Semitism, one that is part of a larger fog that bears hatred and suspicion that extends beyond Jews. As a man wary of just about any group that wasn’t Dutch and Calvinist (he also opposed Lutherans and Quakers in the colony), Stuyvesant and his sculpted image stand increasingly isolated in a city that grew far beyond his mental landscape and embraced a vast array of nationalities and faiths.

In an unintended way, Stuyvesant was a unifier, providing a negative model, exhibiting what a peripheral colony and city needed to avoid. Turning away from his biases, that colony and city grew by reaching out and attracting seekers of opportunity and freedom of conscience from around the world. In his bigotry and defiance, he may be a lesson for our time: The pose of candor or independence can be little more than a license for personal and group bias, raising mass suspicions and walls that narrow the lives of those who need a path out of isolation.