Roosevelt statue to be removed from Museum of Natural History steps

Roosevelt statue to be removed from Museum of Natural History steps

The bronze statue of former president Theodore Roosevelt will make its dismount from the steps of the American Museum of Natural History. For years, activists have criticized the monument for its visual subjugation of two men — one Native American and the other African — stationed on either side of Roosevelt, who rides above them on horseback.

The statue of former president Theodore Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History.
The statue of former president Theodore Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History.

The museum announced the removal on its website, noting that a memo was sent to staff members detailing the decision. The figure — known as the Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt — has greeted visitors to the institution since 1940, when it was installed as part of a New York State memorial to the former president.

“As we strive to advance our institution’s, our City’s and our country’s passionate quest for racial justice, we believe that removing the Statue will be a symbol of progress and of our commitment to build and sustain an inclusive and equitable Museum community and broader society,” Ellen Futter, president of the museum, said in a statement.

The move, according to the museum, was precipitated by the calls for racial justice that have sparked after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. As part of this countrywide reckoning, statues depicting Confederate generals and racist figures have been toppled or dissembled. The removal of the Roosevelt statue, officials explained, is tied to the memorial’s hierarchical composition, which critics have condemned as racist.

“We also have watched as the attention of the world and the country has increasingly turned to statues and monuments as powerful and hurtful symbols of systemic racism,” a memo to the museum staff read. “We believe that the Statue should no longer remain and have requested that it be moved.”

The city, which owns the statue and the land on which it’s installed, agreed to the removal, the museum announced Sunday. Roosevelt’s great-grandson (who is also a museum trustee) came out in support, stating the “world does not need statues, relics of another age, that reflect neither the values of the person they intend to honor nor the values of equality and justice.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said in the statement that the city “supports” the museum’s request. “It is the right decision and the right time to remove this problematic statue,” he explained.

Activist groups have been instrumental in calling for the museum to get rid of the statue. In 2016, the group Decolonize This Place (which remained vocal in calling for the monument to be removed) led an anti-Columbus Day protest within the museum and shrouded the statue with plastic.

Mirroring a 1971 protest by six Indigenous activists, in October 2017, the Monument Removal Brigade splashed red paint on the base of the 10-foot-tall statue in October 2017, stating that the figure “not only embodies the violent historical foundation of the United States, but also the underlying dynamics of oppression in our contemporary world.”

As the museum’s recent memo outlines, the statue was one of several reviewed between 2017 and 2018 by the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers, which was tasked with deciding whether various memorials throughout the city should be taken down. Ultimately, the group was split, and the city determined that the statue should remain with additional information provided.

In response, the museum mounted an exhibition titled “Addressing the Statue” last year with the aim of providing historical context about the memorial and inspiring public dialogue.

“We are proud of that work, which helped advance our and the public’s understanding of the Statue and its history and promoted dialogue about important issues of race and cultural representation,” the museum said. “But in the current moment, it is abundantly clear that this approach is not sufficient.”

Noting Roosevelt’s family ties to the institution (his father was among the founding members), the museum said it will remain the state’s official memorial to the former president and will honor Roosevelt’s “role as a leading conservationist” by naming the Hall of Biodiversity after him.

“We recognize that more work is needed to better understand not only the Statue, but our own history,” the museum’s memo to staff said. “As we strive to advance our institution’s, our City’s, and our country’s passionate quest for racial justice, we believe that removing the Statue will be a symbol of progress and of our commitment to build and sustain an inclusive and equitable Museum community and broader society.”

Top Image: The statue of former president Theodore Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History.