Protests over the epidemic of police killings of Black Americans have fueled a national movement to remove statues and monuments that symbolize white supremacy, anti-Black racism, colonialism, and oppression in the United States.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday that the statue of President Theodore Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City will join the ranks of monuments to be taken down. The bronze statue features President Roosevelt on a horse flanked by a Native American man on one side and a Black man on the other.
“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,” de Blasio’s office told CNN. “The city supports the museum’s request. It is the right decision and the right time to remove this problematic statue.”
Although calls to remove Confederate monuments have existed since the Jim Crow era, there was a national movement in 2017 to get rid of racist monuments in the wake of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Activists demanded that elected officials get rid of statues of racists in cities from Baltimore to New Orleans. According to a 2019 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least 114 Confederate statues were removed, but many remain.
Today, community members and protestors are taking the matters into their own hands, forcibly removing the statues with chains and ropes.
Demonstrators in Portland, Oregon pulled down a statue of President Thomas Jefferson, who owned over 600 slaves over the course of his life, outside of Jefferson High School last Monday. On June 11, protestors toppled a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Attempts to remove a statue of Juan de Oñate, a 16th-century conquistador exiled from New Mexico over his cruel treatment of Native Americans, ended in gunfire on Tuesday.
According to a running tally by NBC News, protestors have removed or requested the removal of more than 130 monuments. Even more have been defaced, beheaded, vandalized, set on fire, and occupied by protestors.
Many politicians have shown their support for the efforts by announcing the removal of statues themselves. Members of New York City Council wrote a letter to Mayor de Blasio demanding the removal of a statue of President Thomas Jefferson from City Hall last week.
Although the mayor’s office has not responded to this demand, the decision to allow the American Museum of Natural History to take down the Roosevelt statue indicates that the Jefferson statue could be removed as well.
“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,” the museum’s president, Ellen Futter, said of the decision. “We have watched as the attention of the world and the country has increasingly turned to statues as powerful and hurtful symbols of systemic racism. Simply put, the time has come to move it.”
Sources: CNN 6/23/2020; The New York Times 6/23/2020; NBC News 6/22/2020