AMNH’s problematic Theodore Roosevelt statue will relocate to presidential library in North Dakota

November 22, 2021

Photo by Mike Steele on Flickr

After standing on the steps of the American Museum of Natural History for more than 80 years, the statue of Theodore Roosevelt will be removed and relocated to North Dakota. The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library, set to open in Medora, N.D. in 2026, announced on Friday it entered into an agreement for a long-term loan of the statue with New York City.

In June, the city’s Public Design Commission (PDC) approved plans to take down the statue, seen as problematic for its racist hierarchical composition: Roosevelt on horseback flanked by a Native American figure and an African figure, both depicted much lower than the former president.

“Museums are supposed to do hard things,” Edward F. O’Keefe, the CEO of the Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation, said in a press release. “It is said that ‘those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,’ and our job is to forthrightly examine history to understand the present and make a better future.”

The deal reached between the library and New York City allows for the library to move the statue for storage while it develops a plan for displaying it. The library said it has support from the Roosevelt family to establish an advisory board made up of Indigenous Tribal and Black communities, historians, scholars, and artists to “guide the recontextualization of the statue.”

Any plans are subject to final approval by the city’s PDC. The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library is expected to open in 2026, the 250th anniversary of the United States.

Rendering showing AMNH steps after statue removal; courtesy of NYC Parks/ AMNH

According to AMNH officials, work to remove will begin sometime this fall and take several months. A proposal from NYC Parks and the Upper West Side museum calls for two plaques with text explaining the statue and the reasons for its removal.

“We are grateful to the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library for proposing a fitting new home for the Equestrian Statue,” Vicki Been, the city’s Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, said in a statement. “This long-term loan would allow an important part of the city’s art collection to be appropriately contextualized, and we look forward to continuing to work with the library on next steps.”

Following Roosevelt’s death, the New York State Legislature in 1920 established the Roosevelt Memorial Commission with the goal of expressing the former president’s “life as a nature lover, naturalist, explorer and author of works of natural history,” according to the museum.

Designed by James Earle Fraser, the Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt was unveiled on the city-owned steps of the museum in 1940. Activists have called for the removal of the statue for decades.

In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio convened the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers after white supremacists protested in Charlottesville, Virginia over the city’s plan to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee.

The commission concluded the statue did not have to be removed or relocated but required additional context. In 2019, AMNH opened the “Addressing the Statue” exhibition to add context to the statue and examine the racial hierarchy depicted. Calls for the removal of the statue were revived following the murder of George Floyd last summer.

Another statue of a former president in New York City will be removed soon. Last month, the PDC voted to take down the 7-foot statue of Thomas Jefferson that has been located in the City Council’s legislative chambers for over 100 years, citing the third president’s ownership of 600-plus slaves.

After a debate over where to move Jefferson, the commission voted to give the statue to the New-York Historical Society, as the New York Times reported, where it will be displayed with historical context by the end of the year.

“The Equestrian Statue is problematic in its hierarchical depiction of its subjects and should be removed from New York State’s official memorial to Theodore Roosevelt,” Theodore Roosevelt V said.

“Rather than burying a troubling work of art, we ought to learn from it. It is fitting that the statue is being relocated to a place where its composition can be recontextualized to facilitate difficult, complex, and inclusive discussions.”


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