New York decides, remove racist Roosevelt monument from Natural History Museum

In a unanimous decision by the special commission, the City of New York has officially determined that the Roosevelt monument in front of the Museum of Natural History will be removed because of its implications with colonialism and racism.

The New York City Public Design Commission ruled by unanimous vote last June 21: the equestrian monument to Theodore Roosevelt that has stood in front of the entrance to theAmerican Museum of Natural History, one of the world’s best-known and most visited natural history museums, since 1940 will be removed. The bronze sculpture, the work of James Earle Fraser (Winona, 1876 - Westport, 1953), was created in 1925 and was intended as a tribute to the politician who was president of the United States between 1901 and 1906 and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1906 (for his role as a decisive mediator in the war between Russia and Japan), as he was very interested in natural sciences and author of a number of publications on the subject.

The statue has been the subject of controversy for years, not because of Roosevelt’s character per se, but because of the way in which he is depicted, namely, accompanied by a native wearing a feathered headdress and an African American. The statue, the museum had explained, is much discussed “because of the hierarchical composition that places one figure on horseback and two others walking alongside her, and many of us find the depiction of the figures of the native and the African and their positioning racist.” Also of the same opinion was the head of the city’s Parks Department, Sam Biederman, who said during the courtroom discussion that although the work was not done in bad faith, “it supports a thematic framework of colonialism and racism.”

The first calls for removal had come in 2017, and since then there has been no end of discussion about moving the work: and while everyone now agrees on removal anyway, there is less agreement on the work’s fate. There are those who are pushing to include it inside the museum’s itinerary, while a good half of the committee that decided on the removal believes that further study is needed to try to figure out the most suitable place to welcome it. According to the New York Times, the possible destination could be an institution dedicated to the work of Theodor Roosevelt, but the name of that institution has not yet been chosen or revealed.

“The museum,” the American Museum of Natural History said in a note, “is pleased to learn that the Public Design Commission voted unanimously to move the equestrian monument. We thank the city agencies that were involved in developing and evaluating this proposal.”

Pictured: the monument. Photo by Ad Meskens

New York decides, remove racist Roosevelt monument from Natural History Museum
New York decides, remove racist Roosevelt monument from Natural History Museum

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