The bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt, which has presided over the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City since 1940, is coming down.
What We Know:
- The decision, proposed by the museum and agreed to by the city of New York, which owns the building and property, was announced on Sunday to remove the bronze statue of Teddy Roosevelt on horseback, flanked by a Native American man and an African man, from the entrance of the museum.
- The decision comes amid a time of social unrest in response to police brutality and systemic racism fueled by the death of George Floyd. Many critics of the statue at the museum’s Central Park West entrance, say it has come to symbolize a painful legacy of colonial expansion and racial discrimination. The call for removal was made by protesters who say the statue is too offensive to stand as a monument to American history. They see Roosevelt as an imperialist who led the fighting in the Caribbean that ultimately resulted in American expansion into colonies there and in the Pacific including Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Guam, Cuba, and the Philippines.
“Over the last few weeks, our museum community has been profoundly moved by the ever-widening movement for racial justice that has emerged after the killing of George Floyd,” the museum’s president, Ellen V. Futter, said in an interview. “We have watched as the attention of the world and the country has increasingly turned to statues as powerful and hurtful symbols of systemic racism.”
- Futter said that the decision was made by the museum based on the statue itself, namely its “hierarchical composition”, and not on Roosevelt whom “the museum continues to honor as “a pioneering conservationist”. “Simply put,” she added, “the time has come to move it.” Many supporters agree with this sentiment, saying that this statue does not reflect Roosevelt in an ideal way.
I’m the biggest fan of Teddy, but a lot of us (including me) could have benefited from seeing the statue before freaking out about its removal.
Not ideal—or reflective of his leadership—which is why his family supported taking it down. pic.twitter.com/faplTkwwTI
— Benji Backer (@BenjiBacker) June 22, 2020
- The decision about the statue is being treated differently by the museum staff. During a time when calls are being made around the country for the removal and destruction of painful historical monuments, the museum has defended that such portraits are relics of their time, that however objectionable, could perhaps serve to educate and therefore it will keep such relics inside their museum, not on display outside.
- The Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, supported the decision made by the museum, saying “The American Museum of Natural History has asked to remove the Theodore Roosevelt statue because it explicitly depicts Black and Indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior. The City supports the Museum’s request. It is the right decision and the right time to remove this problematic statue.”
- Theodore Roosevelt IV, age 77, a great-grandson of the 26th president and a museum trustee released a statement also approving the removal of the statue. “The world does not need statues, relics of another age, that reflect neither the values of the person they intend to honor nor the values of equality and justice.” Adding, “the composition of the Equestrian Statue does not reflect Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy. It is time to move the statue and move forward.”
- “I’m glad to see it go,” said Mabel O. Wilson, a Columbia University professor who served on the city commission to reconsider the statue and was consulted on the exhibition. “The depiction of the Indigenous and the African trailing behind Roosevelt, who is strong and virile,” she added, “was clearly a narrative of white racial superiority and domination.”
- The statue has long been criticized as being an emblem for “patriarchy, white supremacy, and settler-colonialism.” In 2017, the statue was defaced by a group of protestors who splashed red liquid over the statue’s base representing blood. The group released a statement following the incident saying, “Now the statue is bleeding. We did not make it bleed. It is bloody at its very foundation.”
President Trump took to Twitter to express his opposition to the decision made by the museum and the city, tweeting, “Ridiculous! Don’t do it!” At a rally last week, the president condemned “the unhinged left-wing mob trying to vandalize our history, desecrate our monuments”.
Ridiculous, don’t do it! https://t.co/VYez8p9AJh
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2020
Details about when the monument will be taken down, where it will go and what, if anything, will replace it, remain undetermined, officials said. In a compensatory gesture, the museum is naming its Hall of Biodiversity for Roosevelt “in recognition of his conservation legacy,” Futter said.