Let’s Rethink A Local Name


Have you ever noticed that a lot of the buildings, parks, and highways are named after the same type of people? 

These people I’m referring to are wealthy white men from history. 

In 2021 a survey of 48,178 statues, plaques, parks and obelisks across the United States showed that less than 1% were of people of color, according to The Louisiana Illuminator. This excludes people who are not white. 

What about our town? When you hear the name Chancellor Livingston what do you think of? 

The elementary school perhaps?  Or maybe you know some things about him. For example, that he was the former Chancellor of New York, or that he was on the committee to help draft the Declaration of Independence. 

These things are great, but they don’t fully represent who he really was. 

The Historical Society of the New York Courts provides a lot of information about his life.  Robert R Livingston (otherwise known as Chancellor Livingston) was born on November 27, 1746. His father was the well respected Justice Robert Livingston of the supreme court.

Chancellor Livingston attended Columbia University which was then known as King’s College. After that he started studying law. He eventually built his own practice in New York City. 

In 1773 Livingston was appointed the position of recorder in the state of New York. He became a member of the second, third and fourth provincial congresses of New York. He was a delegate of New York to the Continental Congress which made him be on the committee to help draft the Declaration of Independence. He was also on the committee to help draft the New York constitution in 1777.

He was appointed Chancellor of New York which he is best known for. He was also given the honor of swearing in George Washington into office. He may be best known for negotiating the Louisiana Purchase. He died on February 26, 1813 at the age of 66.

Given these facts you must be thinking, “wow, what an influential guy.” 

But if you really think about it, he didn’t have to do much to accomplish what he ultimately accomplished. He was born into one of the wealthiest families in our state, and he was expected to do all these things. 

Also, Livingston was “against” slavery, but he did not do anything to actually stop slavery. People say his views on slavery are “complex” but they aren’t. When you don’t do anything to stop the problem, you are actually part of the problem. 

Unfortunately, like many other men of his time, he was an enslaver. He enslaved about 15 people, and his family enslaved many more. 

Also, one of the reasons that people think he is deserving of recognition is because he helped draft the Declaration of Independence. That should be something people are commemorated for, but Robert Livingston didn’t actually sign the declaration because he believed it was too soon to declare independence. 

Chancellor Livingston is also honored at the NY state capital. 

Recently, hIstorians have been pushing to change the statue to someone more deserving. Politicians decided that since he enslaved people, and he and his brother John Livingston may have owned several brothels as well, the bad ultimately outweighs the good in this situation. 

If people are questioning his statue in our state capital, a statue that has actually won awards, the name of the elementary school has to change as well. 

The Livingstons may have been a very well known family in the Hudson Valley, but it is time for someone else who is more influential and more deserving to have a chance to shine. 

When asked about whom he would choose to name the elementary school after, Brett King, principal of CLS, said it was a good question but that he did not have a person in mind. 

Rhinebeck Village Mayor, Gary Bassett had a really interesting idea. He actually said that the first thing that came to mind was to name it after a plant. 

Rhinebeck is known as the Violet capital, so my first inclination was to name it after Violets,” said Mayor Bassett. 

What do you think?

Should our school be renamed? Let us know in the poll below.

Should we change the name of Chancellor Livingston Elementary School?


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