Controversial Roosevelt statue removed in New York

One of the statues The most controversial in New York City, the former Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) on horseback over a black and aboriginal, has just left the majestic facade of Natural History MuseumThus putting an end to another debate about the memory the city owes to some of its heroes.

The statue, which had been confined to fabric-covered scaffolding for several months, was finally dismantled overnight since last Tuesday, a museum spokesperson confirmed to Efe, who explained that the operation was “done with specialists in historical preservation” and that it would culminate in a comprehensive restoration of the square where It was parked across from Central Park.

Its final destination will be Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in North Dakota, and although this institution won’t open until 2026, pressure to remove the statue has become unsustainable, especially after the Black Lives Matter movement, which sparked a national debate over public symbols and literally threw Many sculptures on the floor, from Christopher Columbus to Confederate generals.


Photo: EFE/Javier Otazu

White, black and aborigines

The controversial statue, erected in 1940, showed Roosevelt on horseback, flanked by two figures on his feet below: a feathered Indian man and a naked black man, both unknown, simply representing their respective races.

The museum, a site that attracted more than 4 million visitors in 2018, recently admitted that “the statue itself conveys a message of racial hierarchy that the museum and members of the public found disturbing.”

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“It’s the story of a man who tames a horse, but also tames Native Americans and black Africans,” Mabel Wilson, a professor of African studies at Columbia University, said in a video produced by the same museum.

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Photo: EFE/Javier Otazu

In 2017, the New York Mayor’s Office actually launched a debate about the city’s most controversial sculpture, at which time the museum produced an exhibit called “Let’s Talk About the Statue” and this video where historians from both directions have given their opinion of the statue, a relief in suppressing the sculpture or leaving it as a witness. on the afternoon.

Finally, for the past four years, the Museum has placed a plaque under the statue in which it has been said in this statue, in a difficult exercise of political correctness, “Some see a heroic group; others see a symbol of racial hierarchy.” Some of these have vandalized the statue with paint on several occasions.

“Teddy” Roosevelt, likeable racist

Teddy Roosevelt, as he was known to the public, always appears among the group of “Best Presidents of the United States”, either by popular consideration or by historians, and is in fact one of the Four Fathers of the Country, along with Abraham. Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, whose gigantic-sized statues are carved into the rock of Mount Rushmore.

He is credited, among other things, with the creation of national parks in the United States and the promotion of environmental protection policy which explains why it was his portrait that presided over the Museum of Natural History, famous for its dinosaur skeletons, savage stuffed animals and planetariums.

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But a reckless figure like Roosevelt was also a convinced racist, and the author of phrases unimaginable today. He said of the American Indians: “I would not say that a good Indian is a dead Indian, but I think that it would be true of nine out of ten, and I wouldn’t ask much about a tenth. The most corrupt cowboy has a greater moral reputation than the Indian medium.”

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Photo: EFE/Javier Otazu

He wrote of blacks that “as a whole they are inferior to whites” and told a senator that “most Southern blacks were ineligible to vote” and giving them the right to vote “would lower parts of the South to the level of Haiti.”

It cannot be said that the statue did not fully reflect the man Roosevelt was, but in 2022 that image became unacceptable.

The museum eventually chose to remove the statue but pledged in its letter that its former site would remain “the official memorial site to Theodore Roosevelt”.

In the place where the statue is, today’s frieze passes through the empty square. On the frieze you can still read this description of that chief: statesman – author – historian – humanitarian – soldier – patriot.

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