NEW YORK • The bronze statue of former US president Theodore Roosevelt, on horseback and flanked by a Native American man and an African man, which has presided over the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History in New York since 1940, is coming down.
The decision, proposed by the museum and agreed to by New York City which owns the building and property, came after years of objections from activists and at a time when the police killing of unarmed African American George Floyd has initiated an urgent nationwide conversation about racism.
For many, the “Equestrian” statue at the museum’s Central Park West entrance symbolises a painful legacy of colonial expansion and racial discrimination.
“Over the last few weeks, our museum community has been profoundly moved by the ever-widening movement for racial justice that has emerged after the killing of George Floyd,” said the museum’s president, Ms Ellen Futter.
The museum took action amid a heated national debate over the appropriateness of statues or monuments that first focused on Confederate symbols like Robert E. Lee and has now moved on to a wider arc of figures, from Christopher Columbus to Thomas Jefferson.
Last week alone, a crowd set fire to a statue of George Washington in Oregon, before pulling it to the ground. Gunfire broke out during a protest in Albuquerque to demand the removal of a statue of Juan de Onate, the despotic conquistador of New Mexico. And New York City council members demanded that a statue of Thomas Jefferson be removed from City Hall.
In many of those cases, the calls were made by protesters who say the images are too offensive to stand as monuments to American history. The decision about the Roosevelt statue is different, made by a museum that, like others, had previously defended – and preserved – such portraits as relics of their time and which, however objectionable, could perhaps serve to educate. It was then seconded by the city, which had the final say.
“The American Museum of Natural History has asked to remove the Theodore Roosevelt statue because it explicitly depicts black and indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.