The statue of President Theodore Roosevelt on the steps of the Museum of Natural History has been provoking debate and protest for years. Now it’s one of the monuments that activists say has to go because it reinforces racist beliefs. A group called Decolonize This Place said on Twitter that the statue is a “white supremacist monument” and it is time to “Tear This Down”, with a warning: “otherwise see elsewhere.” In other parts of the country, and abroad, controversial statues have come down by official decree or by force.
.@NYCMayor — It is recommended that you remove that white supremacist monument of Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History, otherwise see elsewhere #racistmonuments #decolonizethisplace pic.twitter.com/hriXmVuTDt
— DecolonizeThisPlace (@decolonize_this) June 8, 2020
The images of the statue with red paint above, from Decolonize and our archives, were from 2017. But apparently someone else has vandalized the statue since, because police sent out an alert this week that they’re looking for someone for vandalizing the statue.
“On Friday, June 5, 2020, at approximately 1310 hours, in front of 200 Central Park West (Museum of Natural History), the unidentified male was captured on video surveillance throwing paint on the Teddy Roosevelt statue in front of the location,” the alert said. The person is wanted for criminal mischief. If charged as a Class 3 felony, that could result in as much as four years of prison time.
Asked whether the museum would support authorities pressing charges, a museum spokesperson did not respond. The spokesperson also did not respond to a question about Decolonize This Place’s tweet.
The statue has been up since 1940, and people have raised alarms about it for years. In 1971, Native American activists covered it in red paint. Roosevelt is depicted on a horse flanked by Native American and Black men on foot — a racial pyramid that presents stereotyped depictions of the president’s gun carriers. The museum itself created an exhibit last year asking visitors their reaction to the statue, and has said that the statue “needs to be addressed” — though it’s owned by the city so is not entirely up to the museum.
The mayor’s commission on monuments, created in 2017 to review statues whose political messages might be offensive, was split about the statue. Its report “included evidence that the sculpture was meant to represent Roosevelt’s belief in the unity of the races,” but also that “Roosevelt’s stature on his noble steed visibly expresses dominance and superiority over the Native American and African figures.”
Their opinion was mixed, and the statue stayed in place.
Further complicating things is Roosevelt himself — whose father helped establish the museum. Roosevelt was a progressive reformer in many respects, but he had views that are clearly racist — and not just because of the change in social perspectives over time. Historians point to evidence that he believed in the racial superiority of the white man, for instance. The museum itself hosted eugenics conferences in the 1920s.