American Museum of Natural History to remove Teddy Roosevelt statue


JUNE 21, 2020

Photograph: Jeenah Moon/Reuters

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City will remove a statue of former president Theodore Roosevelt from outside its main entrance.

The move, announced on Sunday, follows incidents across the US in which statues of Confederate generals and leaders and other historical figures linked to slavery and the dispossession of indigenous Americans have been forcibly removed or destroyed.

In San Francisco on Friday a statue of another president, Ulysses S Grant, was among monuments pulled down in Golden Gate Park. Grant led Union armies to victory in the civil war and as president fought the Ku Klux Klan. But before defeating the slave-owning Confederacy he married into a slave-owning family and briefly owned a slave himself.

Roosevelt occupied the White House from 1901 to 1909. A keen outdoorsman and hunter, he helped form the museum’s collection.

On Sunday, museum president Ellen Futter told the New York Times: “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.”

Floyd, an African American man, was killed in May when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Protests over his death have expanded nationwide, to encompass other such killings and all police brutality and systemic racism.

The statue at the museum on Central Park West in New York shows Roosevelt, the 26th president, on horseback and flanked by an African American and a Native American. It has been the target of protests and calls for it to be taken down for some time. The museum has engaged with the issue before.

A historic “Old New York” diorama inside the building which shows Dutch settlers and Native Americans has been given labels explaining its historical context.

“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. “Simply put, the time has come to move it.”

The museum is part of New York state’s official memorial to Roosevelt, who was born in New York City in 1858 and died on Long Island in 1919.

In a statement, New York mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, said the museum had asked to remove the 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.”

What happens to the statue remains to be determined.

Theodore Roosevelt IV, a great-grandson of the former president and museum trustee, told the Times he supported the decision.

“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,” he said. “The composition of the Equestrian Statue does not reflect Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy. It is time to move the statue and move forward.”

In recent years, Roosevelt’s views on race and his role in the Spanish-American war have attracted criticism. At one protest in 2016, activists called the statue “a stark embodiment of the white supremacy that Roosevelt himself espoused and promoted”.

The Times said Futter “made a point of saying that the museum was only taking issue with the statue itself, not with Roosevelt overall”.

“It’s very important to note that our request is based on the statue, that is the hierarchical composition that’s depicted in it,” she said. “It is not about Theodore Roosevelt who served as governor of New York before becoming the 26th president of the United States and was a pioneering conservationist.”

Courtesy/Source: The Guardian