Facing History: Removing Statues

A statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims (1813-1883) was removed from New York City’s Central Park yesterday, after holding court for 84 years. Sims, dubbed “the father of gynecology,” performed surgical experiments on female slaves without anesthesia. His statue will be moved to a cemetery in Brooklyn, where he is buried.

The statue of the South Carolina native was the only one to be removed among several city statues under review. Theodore Roosevelt will remain in front of the Museum of Natural History; Christopher Columbus will stay in Columbus Circle, however markers noting the explorer’s mistreatment of Native Americans will be erected nearby.

New York City isn’t alone in examining the veracity of the history behind its statues, streets, and buildings. Cities and universities are weighing past relationships to slavery and changing names following many protests and debates.

Names matter. To understand why these statues have to come down, read Mitch Landrieu’s In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History.

The two-term New Orleans Mayor and former Louisiana lieutenant governor tackles the issue head-on. The statues don’t honor history or heroes.

“They were created as political weapons, part of an effort to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. They helped distort history…. to distract from the terror tactics that deprived African Americans of fundamental rights from the Reconstruction years through Jim Crow until the civil rights movement and the federal court decisions of the 1960s. Institutional inequities in the economic, education, criminal justice, and housing systems exist to this very day,” writes Landrieu.

A visit to Auschwitz in 1980 left an indelible mark on the then 20-year-old college student. Like many, he’d studied the Holocaust in school.

“To read about it from afar is to get a grasp on history and that unspeakable horror. It also allows denial to creep in—That was then, this is now. It is not us. This can never happen in the United States. But when you stand in the very place where so many human beings were murdered in one of the world’s worst atrocities, you wonder how a group of people could become so cruel…”

…”And then the realization came that we had done something like this in America with slavery…”

As mayor, Landrieu, persuaded by his personal friend and New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis, set out to remove the city’s offensive statues. With the city council’s approval, the statues were removed under cover of darkness and amid protests on both sides last year.

…“We can be proud of our ancestors who served the Confederacy as men who fought courageously for a cause larger than themselves. We can also recognize that in the context of history they were wrong.”

Read the book. Pass it along to others. Mitch Landrieu gets what’s wrong with America. I bet he could fix it too.




This entry was posted in Books, Civil Rights History, commentary, Education, New York City, news, Reading, teaching and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Facing History: Removing Statues

  1. It’s easy to view History differently now than during the time of the events.
    It’s never too late to acknowledge bad policy and prevent repetition. Very good post.


  2. Drjcwash says:

    I remember reading the book “Medical Apartheid” and being angered by the account of this research. These relics of our painful past have to go.


  3. I hope you’re right when you say that Mitch Landrieu, in his book, showed what is wrong in America. Too many crimes were overlooked over the years. We need to see them now for what they were and decide in which direction we want our country to go.


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