The results of the Mayor’s monuments commission are out, and only one statue will be relocated following the conclusion of the review. CBS New York first reported on the outcome of the review, which was then approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The statue of physician J. Marion Sims, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street, will be relocated to Green-Wood Cemetery, where Sims is buried. Known as “the father of modern gynecology,” Sims’ legacy has been the subject of increasing scrutiny due to his experimentation on slaves. The city will install informational plaques on both the relocated statue and the pedestal that remains on the Upper West Side to provide more context on the statue.
“Reckoning with our collective histories is a complicated undertaking with no easy solution,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a statement. “Our approach will focus on adding detail and nuance to – instead of removing entirely – the representations of these histories. And we’ll be taking a hard look at who has been left out and seeing where we can add new work to ensure our public spaces reflect the diversity and values of our great city.”
The most high-profile statue considered for removal, that of Christopher Columbus, in Columbus Circle, will remain in place, albeit with new historical markers explaining Columbus’ history. The statue has been the source of warring opinions between Italian-Americans, who say removing the statue erases their history, and many New Yorkers and Native Americans who wanted the statue gone due to Columbus’ treatment of Native Americans. Now, the city will also commission a new monument recognizing Indigenous peoples.
Another controversial statue, that of Theodore Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History (which was smeared in red paint in October) will also remain in place, but there will be additional signage and education programs undertaken by the museum to offer more background on Roosevelt. The Commission was deadlocked on the removal of the Roosevelt statue, so de Blasio cast the tie-breaking vote that ensured it stayed in place, according to CBS.
A plague dedicated to Henri Philippe Pétain, considered a Nazi collaborator, will also stay in the Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan. The city is going to explore options on how best to provide historic information on these plaques.
State Assemblyman Dov Hikind was unimpressed and told CBS, “why are we playing games with this? Where’s the sensitivity? I thought we were progressive. Why not fight for the right thing and rip the damn thing out?”
As part of their review, Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers held several public meetings, and got hundreds of responses both in meetings and in online surveys. The report issued by the commission will now serve as a framework to deal with such controversies in the future.