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City’s controversial Columbus, Roosevelt statues to stay: Mayor

The city “will focus on adding detail and nuance to — instead of removing entirely — the representations of these histories,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
New York’s Mayoral Advisory Commission’s review of controversial statues has decided to keep monuments honoring Christopher Columbus, Teddy Roosevelt and others.
New York’s Mayoral Advisory Commission’s review of controversial statues has decided to keep monuments honoring Christopher Columbus, Teddy Roosevelt and others. (iStock)

The verdict on what to do with New York City’s controversial statues of Christopher Columbus, Teddy Roosevelt and others has been set in stone as officials released their review of city property Thursday.

The decision to keep the Columbus statue in Columbus Circle and the Roosevelt monument outside the American Museum of Natural History was made by the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers (MAC), which was created as nationwide protests against such statues took place this past summer.

“Thousands of New Yorkers got involved in this process, and there’s been an important conversation going on across the city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “Reckoning with our collective histories is a complicated undertaking with no easy solution.”

The mayor added that the city’s approach “will focus on adding detail and nuance to — instead of removing entirely — the representations of these histories. And we’ll be taking a hard look at who has been left out and seeing where we can add new work to ensure our public spaces reflect the diversity and values of our great city.”

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While many advocates called for the removal of the Columbus statue due to his treatment of Native Americans, many Italian-Americans felt such action would erase their history “and that was unacceptable to me,” John Calvelli, a member of the committee who was in favor of keeping the Columbus Circle monument, told CBS2. “This is a great day for Italian-Americans.”

Though Columbus is staying put, the commission opted to “take additive measures to continue the public discourse,” which includes erecting new historical markers in the vicinity of Columbus Circle to explain the history of the explorer and his monument and commissioning a new monument in a yet-to-be-decided location to recognize indigenous peoples.

Advocates have long considered the Roosevelt statue outside the AMNH racist because it shows the former president and conservationist on horseback towering above Native American and Africans.

The MAC said it will work with the museum to provide on-site signage and educational programming that will give interpretations of the sculptor’s intentions and also “explore commissioning a new artwork in the vicinity to further those dialogues.”

A statue of J. Marion Sims, “the father of modern gynecology,” in Central Park will be relocated to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. The monument had come under fire as Sims, who is buried in Green-Wood, was found to have experimented on slaves without anesthesia.

The city will informational plaques and commission new artwork with public input to reflect the backlash about Sims’ work and “partner with a community organization to promote in-depth public dialogues on the history of non-consensual medical experimentation of people of color, particularly women,” the committee said.

A plaque honoring Henri Philippe Pétain in the Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan will also remain. Pétain was long considered a World War I hero, but was later convicted of treason for collaborating with Nazis during their occupation of France in World War II.

Officials said they “will explore opportunities to add context such as wayfinding, on-site signage and historical information about the people for whom parades were held.”

To make their decisions, the MAC held three formal meetings and one public hearing in each borough, where hundreds of New Yorkers offered their verbal testimony. Additionally, an online survey about the monuments and ideas for additional public artwork that was released by the commission received more than 3,000 responses. 

 
 
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