A statue of Theodore Roosevelt that depicts the former president on horseback flanked by a Native American man and an African man will be removed from the steps of the American Museum of Natural History, officials announced on Sunday. The decision to take down the statue, which local activists have requested for years, comes as a renewed discourse about racism and racist symbols continues to grow across the country following the death of George Floyd last month.
“The Statue has long been controversial because of the hierarchical composition that places one figure on horseback and the others walking alongside, and many of us find its depictions of the Native American and African figures and their placement in the monument racist,” AMNH officials wrote in an update on the museum’s website.
In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio convened the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers after violent protests from supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia over the city’s plan to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee resulted in the death of Heather Heyer. After reviewing symbols of hate on city property, the panel said the statue of Roosevelt, as well as the Christopher Columbus memorial at Columbus Circle, did not have to be removed or relocated but required additional context.
In response, AMNH opened the exhibition “Addressing the Statue,” which explores the history of the Roosevelt statue and discusses the racial hierarchy represented. But, according to the museum, the current moment shows “it is abundantly clear that this approach is not sufficient.”
De Blasio on Monday said he supported the museum’s decision to take down the statue. “Roosevelt himself is another one of these complex figures in American history,” de Blasio said during a press briefing when asked by a reporter about the statue. “He did some extraordinarily progressive things that we feel to this day.”
The mayor added: “The statue has representations that clearly do not represent today’s values. The statue clearly presents a white man as superior to people of color and that’s just not acceptable in this day and age and should never have been acceptable.”
The Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt was commissioned in 1925 and opened in 1940 on the steps of the Upper West Side museum, which is city-owned property. According to the museum, the statue was created to celebrate Roosevelt’s work as a naturalist. His father, Theodore Roosevelt Sr., was also one of the founders of AMNH.
The museum said it will still honor the historic family by naming the Hall of Biodiversity for Roosevelt, the New York Times reported.
The city will renew efforts to review other statues and markers, de Blasio announced last week. A new commission on racial justice and reconciliation, led by First lady Chirlane McCray, will reevaluate whether city statues, including those depicting George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, should be removed.
“I think the point is that in many nations, in many societies, people have had to re-examine their history and their symbols, and I think it’s the right time for us to do it now,” de Blasio said on Friday.
“By having a Racial Justice and Reconciliation Commission, we are saying officially, we want the truth to come out in the open, and then we want to work structurally to address the falsehoods and the pain and the injustice,” the mayor added. “We know from other parts of the world that, that led to transformation. It’s time for that to happen in America and let America’s greatest city lead the way.”
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