Protesters have torn down the statue of Thomas Jefferson from a pedestal in front of Jefferson High School in North Portland.

The removal of the statue occurred Sunday night, after thousands of people gathered at Jefferson High for the 17th night protesting police killings of black Americans. Most of the crowd left, but a small group of protesters toppled the bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson, the school's namesake, while a growing crowd stood around them.

People tagged the statue's base with the words "Slave Owner" and "George Floyd, 8.46," a reference to the length of time a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd's neck last month before he died.

In video captured of the incident sometime before 10 pm, a group cheered once the statue fell to the ground, crushing the concrete below. "We're taking this city back," The Oregonian reported one organizer saying. "One school at a time. One racist statue at a time."

A larger group of demonstrators gathered around the statue Sunday night, celebrating its removal. A video showed the statue replaced by a peace symbol.

By morning, the statue lay on its side at the foot of the school's front steps. Its nose had been chipped off.

Thomas Jefferson statue toppled. (Joy Bogdan)
Thomas Jefferson statue toppled. (Joy Bogdan)

The toppling of the Jefferson statue comes amid the removal of statues across the nation that commemorate Confederate generals and other historical figures whose legacies are stained by racism. Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the nation's third president, was a slaveholder. And Jefferson High School is at the center of Portland's historically black Albina neighborhood.

For over a decade, community members have debated whether to change the name of the school, built in 1908. The school was originally named Albina High School, but was renamed Jefferson in 1909.

In an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting in 2018, Jefferson High School alumnus Clifford Walker said a slave owner isn't an appropriate centerpiece for the historically prominent African American neighborhood. African American Portlanders moved into the Albina District in the 1940s and '50s across the Willamette River from the city's westside.

Community members have suggested renaming the school for Barack Obama or an abolitionist. But efforts to rename the school never gained traction, in part because some black Portlanders see the name as a connection to their own history in the city. Many of the people who attended Jefferson were displaced from the Albina neighborhood by gentrification and the rising cost of housing.

Thomas Jefferson statue toppled. (Joy Bogdan)
Thomas Jefferson statue toppled. (Joy Bogdan)