World City orders Sims statue removed from central park

New York City’s Public Design Commission voted unanimously on Monday to remove the statue of J. Marion Sims, a 19th century surgeon who conducted experimental operations on female slaves, from its place of honor in Central Park.

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J. Marion Sims statue in Central Park has complicated history play

J. Marion Sims statue in Central Park has complicated history

(amny.com)
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It was the first decision to alter a prominent New York monument since Mayor Bill de Blasio called for a review of “symbols of hate” from city property eight months ago, in the wake of the white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one person dead.

A commission that de Blasio created to make recommendations about how to evaluate the city’s monuments and other public images had proposed that the Sims statue be removed.

The Parks Department will remove the statue, at 103rd Street, near the northeast corner of Central Park, at 8 a.m. Tuesday, according to Natalie Grybauskas, a mayoral spokeswoman.

The statue will eventually be erected again in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where Sims is buried.

The Design Commission took up the issue at its monthly meeting at City Hall.

Jonathan Kuhn, the director of Art and Antiquities of the Parks Department, gave a presentation of the history of the statue, which was first erected in Bryant Park in the 1890s, taken down when Bryant Park was dug up during subway construction in the 1920s, and installed at its current location in 1934, across from the New York Academy of Medicine.

Sims was considered a pioneer in the field of gynecology. But there has been a reassessment of his career because of his exploitation of female slaves, who he operated on without anesthesia.

In Central Park, the Sims statue, made of bronze, stands on an imposing granite base. In the cemetery, it will rest on a low pedestal, according to a rendering shown by Kuhn. It will be accompanied by signage explaining the history of the statue and Sims.

Several people spoke in favor of removing the statue, including Tom Finkelpearl, the Cultural Affairs commissioner, who helped lead the monuments commission.

But some were critical of the plan to erect the statue anew in Brooklyn.

“The relocation of the Sims monument to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn by the city of New York denotes that this physical representation of anti-black violence will still stand and maintain its presence in the heart of yet another community of color,” said Amrit Trewn, an activist. He called on the city to have the statue “demolished in its entirety.”

Michele Bogart, a former member of the design commission and an art history professor, urged that the statue remain where it is, saying that the critical portrayal of Sims was based partly on a skewed understanding of the conditions in which he worked. “History matters,” she said. “Don’t run from it.”

Inez Barron, a Brooklyn councilwoman, rebuffed that notion, saying “We’re not talking about changing history; we’re saying it happened.” She added, “We’re saying it was a horror, and it should not be honored and elevated.”

The names of many black women on whom Sims operated are not known, but some people invoked the names of three he recorded: Anarcha, Betsy and Lucy. When the design commission president, Signe Nielsen, called for a vote, she began to cry, saying, “I’m not a woman of color, but I am deeply moved by what we heard today.”

Grybauskas said that the city will consult with the local community as it decides what to put in the place where the Sims statue stood.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

WILLIAM NEUMAN © 2018 The New York Times

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