A year after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his intention to do so, the decision to remove a statue of Theodore Roosevelt that embodies racist and colonialist ideas from the entrance to the Museum of Natural History was finalized this week. On Monday, the New York City Public Design Commission voted unanimously to take down the statue and relocate it to cultural institution that has not yet been designated that will be dedicated to the former president’s legacy. The decision represents a decisive victory for activists and civilians who have been calling for this move for years; the Roosevelt statue has also been vandalized several times.
The statue that’s going to be removed, Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt, was commissioned in the 1930s by the Roosevelt Memorial Association and sculpted by the artist James Earle Fraser. It depicts Roosevelt on horseback while one indigenous man and one Black man flank him on either side subserviently. Monday’s meeting, where the decision to remove the statue took place, was the culmination of years of reports and debates surrounding the statue and what exactly should be done with it.
“The understanding of statues and monuments as powerful and hurtful symbols of systemic racism became even more evident in the wake of the movement for racial justice that emerged after the murder of George Floyd,” Dan Slippen, the vice president of government relations at the Museum of Natural History, said at Monday’s meeting. “It has become clear that removing the statue would be a symbol of progress toward an inclusive and equitable community.”
Ever since last summer’s protests, debates about taking down racist and colonialist monuments have been roiling around the world. Contrary to many locations in the US, the UK has been maintaining a “retain and explain” strategy that would penalize its arts institutions for taking down problematic statuary.