Protesters Face Off In Front of Controversial Teddy Roosevelt Statue

By Lily Goldberg

A group of protestors bearing signs such as “Teddy Deserves Better” and “Trump 2020” gathered outside the Museum of Natural History on 79th Street and Central Park West on Sunday to protest the city’s decision to remove the statue of Teddy Roosevelt. They were met with counterprotesters fighting to remove the statue.

Mayor De Blasio announced last Sunday that after 80 years on the Upper West Side, “Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt,” would be coming down per the request of the museum (New York City owns the statue and thus controls what to do with it).

The protest, titled “Defend Teddy Roosevelt!” was organized by the New York Young Republican Club, who spread the word about the gathering on Twitter and Eventbrite. The protest was eventually counter-protested by a group of Black Lives Matter activists who learned of the New York Young Republican Club’s presence through @justiceforgeorgenyc, a popular Instagram account that provides information about Black Lives Matter protests around New York City and which rallied its followers to the museum for solidarity. The protest began around noon with the Young Republicans and their affiliates stationed in front of the statue and counter-protestors situated across the street in front of Central Park. By 2 p.m., the Black Lives Matter contingent had moved across the street to the right side of the statue, where chants of “George Floyd” were interrupted by the other side yelling “Marxist dykes!”

The statue, a work by sculptor James Earle Fraser, displays the 26th president seated on horseback while an Indigenous man and African man flank him on foot, carrying his guns. The work has long been controversial because of its hierarchical composition, which places Roosevelt above his fellow men.

Fraser’s statue has been the subject of protests for almost 50 years, from when young Indigenous activists were first arrested for covering Roosevelt in red paint in 1971 to the 2017 “Anti-Columbus Day” protest held by organizing group Decolonize This Place. A mayoral advisory commission was split on whether it ought to be removed i 2018.

The museum even held an exhibit called “Addressing the Statue,” which provides clarification about the original intentions of the statue (for example, Fraser stated the figures astride Roosevelt may be allegorical representations of the continents of America and Africa or symbols of Roosevelt’s “friendliness to all races”). In light of the recent protests, however, and an instance on June 13th in which paint was once again flung on the statue, the museum reversed course, stating that “in the current moment, it is abundantly clear that this approach [recontextualization] is not sufficient.”

Some protestors with the Young Republicans, including Ooana Trien, a Hell’s Kitchen resident who describes herself as a “moderate,” claimed the museum had caved to pressure from left-leaning activists in deciding to remove the statue. “In my opinion, this being decided by a mob is an awful precedent,” said Trien. Trien, who attended Tisch School of the Arts and has rallied before to protect works of art she believes have artistic merit, objects to the statue’s removal because she views the decision as an act of artistic censorship that could have far-reaching consequences. “We could end up back in the 90s trying to protect local artists, said Trien. “No museum should ever be coerced into making a decision of any kind.”

Most protestors, however, opposed removing the statue not because they admired its artistry but because they believed that removing the statue would constitute an act of inappropriate historical revisionism. One protestor, Najat, who declined to give her surname, stated, “This is a history museum. History itself is precarious. Who decides what’s good history and what’s bad history?” Another simply held up a sign that said “Those who start with destroying monuments finish with torture, mass murder, genocide.”

On the other side, protestors handed out free bottled water and held signs reading “Even my 7 yr old nephew knows these statues must come down!” Maggie, an Upper West Sider who heard about the protest from @justiceforgeorgenyc, stated “I’m glad there’s some people out supporting taking the statue down. I think the statue itself is racist and I think we can honor Roosevelt’s contribution in other ways.”

But though the issue of Black representation in art and the Black Lives Matter movement are intimately interwoven, some activists who heard about the protest through @justiceforgeorge showed up for solidarity with Black Lives Matter but were privately conflicted on whether the statue should indeed come down. Tim, an Upper East Sider, explained that accusations that Roosevelt was a racist didn’t tell the whole story, and that Roosevelt was in fact “the OG Black Lives Matter ally.” “For me it’s a weird dynamic because he’s an empowering person,” he said. Roosevelt had this highly criticized conversation with Booker T. Washington [referencing Washington’s dinner with the president at the White House in 1901, which prompted outrage from southern politicians] and I think there’s a desire to whitewash this history.”

However, John W., an Upper West Sider who heard about the protest through @justiceforgeorgenyc and joined on the Black Lives Matter side, believes that while Roosevelt’s own history is indeed complex, the statue honors a certain vision of Roosevelt rather than honoring his complexities. “I’m open to statues that tell a story,” said John. “Even if Teddy Roosevelt is a product of his time, we certainly had abolitionists even before that time too,” said John. “So whatever he chose to be or chose to say or act were his choices. I’m open to statues, but statues that show that at the end of the day slaves were freed or there were civil rights.”

De Blasio has not announced a timeline for removing the statue, but keep watching the West Side Rag for updates about it.

NEWS | 59 comments | permalink
    1. Robert Sheridan says:

      Interesting comment about “Marxist dykes”

      But, based on 2nd photo, that perhaps leads to . . .

      “New rule: Black people have to demand that white people stop culturally appropriating how mad they are about racism,”

      There is no doubt than man is a flawed creature. What is wonderful about America is that it seeks constant improvement as nation and of/for its citizens. The issues here and elsewhere are those largely overcome. To value and preserve that progress we cannot erase historical benchmarks noting our progress.

    2. Brewer says:

      Censorship is a High Priority today. Remove X and it never happened. People don’t realize that following this path, one day, they will be canceled as well. French Revolution.

      • UWSCider says:

        @ Brewer- Well said.

      • jsv says:

        They eventually came for Robespierre too.

      • Bob says:

        Yeah, it’s a good thing Germany still has all those statues of Hitler — otherwise we’d totally forget the holocaust. (Oh, wait…)

        Removing statues that celebrate racism doesn’t mean we forget that racism happened. It means that we stop celebrating it. Here, we can celebrate Teddy Roosevelt without the creepy suggestions made by this statue. So why isn’t that enough? Why, exactly, do you also need the creepy racism part?

    3. Ethan says:

      Although I disagree with the pro-statue protestors, we must defend their right to protest at all costs. God bless America.

      • Jack Blackwell says:

        So refreshing, Ethan, to find a true classic liberal who hasn’t gotten sucked into the cesspool of far left-ism (Marxism)and censorship. Well said! Stay strong!

    4. Bruce Bernstein says:

      It’s not about Teddy Roosevelt… it’s about the STATUE, and its racist message. The person who said “this is history” is right. Don’t destroy the statue. Put it in a museum, in a display that explains that as late as 2020, there were people who defended this message and didn’t understand its inherent racism. People in the future will be astounded. Just like today we all understand that “Birth of a Nation” was thoroughly racist. Or maybe some of you “interpret” that movie as non-racist?

      • Bruce, I was watching a William Friedkin interview on YouTube where he went on ad nauseum about Birth Of a Nation. I tried to append the following comment,,, but it disappeared everytime. Here it is: Did anyone catch Friedkin’s justification of “Birth of a Nation” and his justification of the Ku Klux Klan? Friedkin drank the whole bucket of Klan Kool-Aid served up by DW Griffith: About 7 minutes in, this verbatim quote: “During the restoration period in the South there was a lot of Black crime. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan came about because there was a lot of rapes and pillaging done by the newly freed slaves…”

        Well, I don’t know about that AT ALL, and I’m a student of history. I do know that there was a huge amount of DEADLY CRIME done to the Black citizens and that was why the army was sent down there and the South broken up into military districts, as opposed to the previous racist 17th president, Andrew Johnson, who simply welcomed the White former slave-owning aristocrats back with open arms.

    5. Bob Lamm says:

      Not a surprise that Young Republican protesters called counter-protesters “dykes” as a slur, right at the time of celebrations of Stonewall. Their homophobia is disgusting but nothing new for the Grand Old Party of Bigotry.

      • Karen Bruno says:

        Yeah..sort of like calling Obama “Clean” like Biden said! Or like Margaret Sanger when she referred to black babies as “weeds”. Learn your own racist history!

        • Mary says:

          You cite something Margaret Sanger did not say until 2009, more than 40 years after she died. Easy enough to find out what she actually said, to study history from reliable sources; please consider this option before typing your next angry missive.

          • Jack Blackwell says:

            You should note that Sanger was a consultant to the KKK. You are, unwittingly, defending a true racist. Catch up on your reading please.

        • Charly says:

          If you will recall, Biden apologized. Haven’t heard anything from Trump about this from yesterday: “President Trump on Sunday retweeted a video of one of his supporters yelling “White power!” I guess you are okay with that too.

          • Karen L. Bruno says:

            If there is nothing wrong with saying “Black Power”, then there is nothing wrong with saying “White Power”…unless you are racist!

    6. D.L. Martin says:

      This specific statue should have come down and been replaced years ago with a different statue of Teddy Roosevelt. Yes, he was the Rough Rider, U.S. President, naturalist, conservationist, the instigation for our system of National Parks, and perhaps a reason for erecting the wonderful NMNH. It seems appropriate to have a statue of him, by himself, perhaps on horseback, but certainly not the one that now fronts the museum.

    7. UWSHebrew says:

      Perhaps WSR can contact this woman, as detailed in today’s NY Daily News: “One of the few Black protesters who defended the statue was Alice Griffin, a lawyer from the East Village. She sees nothing wrong with the statue — and praised Teddy Roosevelt as a man ahead of his times. “He was an extraordinary man,” said Griffin, 59. “His character has been impugned by these outrageous accusations.”

    8. Personally, I like Teddy; what an exuberant figure!

      On the other hand, 80 years is a very good run; are monuments really supposed to last forever? Shouldn’t every generation get to vote (through demonstrations and other methods)on who they’d like to honor, and how?

      Must we, can we, saddle future generations down through the ages with our metallic thoughts littering their landscape?

    9. Josh says:

      Did the protesters yell “White Power!” like in one of Trump’s latest tweet? Would seem appropriate for this group too.

      I’d love to see the statue replaced with all three figures on horseback as equals.

    10. Sandra Handloser says:

      Note the “Republicans” are maskless!

    11. Ann Lurie Berlin says:

      Save Teddy Roosevelt

      • David S says:

        Ann Lurie Berlin:

        “Save Teddy Roosevelt”?

        He’s been dead for quite a long time. You do know this is a statue we’re talking about, right?

        • Bob says:

          And for that matter, no one wants to get rid of Teddy Roosevelt. They want to get rid of a creepy statue in which Teddy Roosevelt is bizarrely leading what appears to be a Native American and an African American, and replace it with one that isn’t creepy and racist.

          In fact, if Teddy were alive today, he’d probably himself say “what in heaven’s name is up with that creepy statue? Why am I depicted that way? Can’t we replace it with something less creepy, that doesn’t make me look like a total racist?”

    12. Ann Lurie Berlin says:

      All 3 have great respect for each other, life.

    13. blacklikeu says:

      50 years from now, in 2070, when the statues that were put up to celebrate the BLM movement, are being taken down by protesters and by government orders, what will be the reaction?
      Brave new world.
      Meet the new boss – same as the old boss.

    14. mikey97 says:

      Remove the figures leave Teddy on the horse.

    15. Sky says:

      They aren’t taking the statue down and dismantling it or burning it – they’re moving it INTO the museum, where it can be preserved and viewed with historical context. So if you’re arguing that taking the statue down “erases history”, I urge you to reconsider – because that excuse is plainly silly and reeks of racism, buddy.

    16. James Perno says:

      I’m all for the Young Republicans, our city is being terrorized by this group called BLM. The Radical left wing movement. Our Government should be backing the police and should have ended this at the start.
      Leave History alone!

      • Charly says:

        Are you okay with the name-calling and not wearing masks or social distancing? I’m assuming so.

      • Josh says:

        You realize our country was founded on the idea of protesting the government, right? Otherwise we would still be British. But that’s ok, right, because the British were white?

        • UWSHebrew says:

          Peaceful protesting. Not assaulting police officers, vandalism, destruction of public and private property, looting, destroying statues (Federal property in some cases), and creating “autonomous zones”, meaning taking over swaths of land that belong to the city or state (this is what university “safe spaces” led to). But you knew that, and everyone who reads this website knows that.

    17. Stephanie says:

      Lively debate is good. It’s productive to consider the removal of this statue in contrast to the addition of statues to the facade of The Metropolitan Museum in New York. There is a new blog post on this at http://www.museums.love and comments there are welcome!

    18. laltdf says:

      That poster should have Trump in leu of Lenin.

    19. DO says:

      Keep him on horseback and remove the other two figures.

      • KT says:

        Completely agree!! Keep Teddy, move the other two to inside the museum and post a plaque describing the events that led us to change the configuration of the statue, as well as the history of Teddy Roosevelt and what he stood for… I think he’d approve!

        • Bob says:

          I disagree with this because while I don’t like the sculptor’s approach overall, I also don’t like changing sculpture — the art belongs on some level to the artist, and while we should feel to replace it we should not feel free to revise it.

          Instead, let’s spring for a new statue — which can quite frankly look similar to the old statue minus the racist parts, or maybe have the two other figures up on horseback with him, etc. Lots of options.

    20. Brenda says:

      I am in favor of NOT removing this overtly racist statue. I think it’s an excellent conversation starter and a bold liner note to a significant portion of the AMNH collection.

    21. jsv says:

      This is blithering ignorance and idiocy on so many levels.

      1) TR would have wanted to beat the hell out of Trump and told his supporters to go screw themselves. He would have been utterly relentless in his verbal attacks on the Republicans. This was not a man who suffered from understatement. He would have seen the current Republican party for the traitors to American values that they are. For these Republicans to think that TR somehow represents them is a joke.
      2) Given that TR embraced a more progressive slant on the current views of his time, it stands to reason that TR would have been firmly in support of BLM were he living today.
      3) TR decided that Taft was moving far too slow on reformation efforts in the Republican party. TR had “put the party back on the Lincoln track” but Taft was regressing towards conservatism. TR therefore broke off and founded the Bull Moose progressive party, and for that, was persona non grata in the Republican party then after. Yea, he had some views which we consider racist today, but make no mistake, this was a man determined to improve himself and his country. If he were alive today, there is no doubt he would be left of Biden.

    22. Jean Siegel says:

      Did it SAY somewhere that the statue was being moved INTO the museum? I may have missed that somewhere. If so, I’d be quite relieved. After all, where would the museum be if not for Roosevelt?

      • Fran Apgar says:

        Absolutely correct! I am amazed the
        MUSEUM would cave to popular opinion
        from a group that is not well informed historically
        God! What next

    23. Kathleen says:

      It was only organized by the Young Republicans. Many non- Republicans showed up to defend the statue, including myself. So calm down. It wasn’t only Red Trumpers supporting the statue.
      I never heard the term “racist dykes” yelled out. It may have been, but interesting that that’s the one line that’s reported here and the comments latch onto.
      Re comment #10 below – I was there. There was a lack of masks on BOTH sides. Photos can show very select sections of reality at select times. Editors choose which photos from among hundreds that the photographer submits get printed.

    24. Lesley J Achitoff says:

      The Winning of the West Vol. 4, The Indian Wars, Pg. 56 by Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt. “The Most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages. The rude, fierce settler who drives the savage from the land lays all civilized mankind under a debt to him. American and Indian, Boer and Zulu, Cossack and Tartar, New Zealander and Maori…” no excuses, this has to come down

    25. Jess says:

      We should remember that no one is suggesting that the Roosevelt statue should be destroyed. But the question must be asked, as a work of art that undoubtedly portrays a racialized hierarchy, does it need to be the public face, at the entrance, of a public museum? I say no. Personally, I have always found this statue jarring. Instead, it should be moved inward, to a place where its history, that of the individual it portrays and the histories of those who are not portrayed as individuals, represented by the figures on either side, can be appreciated and reflected upon. We cannot change our history, but we can understand it, something that more of us need to do.

    26. Stu says:

      Part 1
      The irony out of all the current statue-toppling, TV-show cancelling, brand-altering etc behavior is that it is not, by-in-large, being called for by the black community. It is white-guilt behavior. This statute depicts history — TR was an explorer/naturalist who led expeditions in Africa and the Americas. His expeditions were in fact supported by local indigenous people, who were paid for their support. Not unlike today’s sherpas of Nepal who lug 100s of pounds of gear up mountains for today’s white explorers. Those people were/are revered in their communities. Since I was a kid, I always presumed the African and Indian porters were a part of the statute to commemorate their part of those expeditions (ie it wasn’t just TR, but his exploits were only accomplished through the help of the local indigenous people).

      • Stu says:

        Part 2
        All these white-led public relation acts are a bit infuriating. Professional sports teams wont play the Star Spangled Banner any more. The Dixie Chicks changing their name. Will the Dixie Cup company change their brand to “Cup”? Hell, the genre of Dixeland music was coined and primarily played/composed by African American jazz/blues artists… And so on. Yes, the sentiment is wonderful. But thats not how change will happen. How about these institutions actually spend their energies and $$$ to make real changes. More scholarships, resources, programming for the communities that need it. Less media coverage on local crime and more media coverage on successful black lawyers, inventors, scientists etc. So eventually a black kid from the project can grow up and realize that there are actual opportunities for him. College and a good job aren’t pipe dreams, but a normal path for a kid like himself.

      • Leon says:

        I agree. I see this statue as recognizing the contributions of those who helped TR. The leader rides the horse. We can’t all be leaders. But by showing them it acknowledges that they helped. I would rather be shown on the side than not at all. An accurate depiction would show Sacagawea as secondary to Lewis & Clark yet her importance is well known.

        Let’s focus our efforts on making life better for people who are alive than worrying about what happened in the past. Rather than tearing down statues, let’s vote Trump out!

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          reply to Leon:

          what you wrote is totally ahistorical. While there are a lot of good things to say about TR, his relationship with Native Americans was not one of them. read the quote cited above. Further, both Black Americans and Africans wore clothes(!). the depiction of the naked Black man is perhaps the most racist portion of the statue.

          it’s really not even close: this statue has a racist message that once was considered acceptable. You don’t have to look far to see parallels: Blackface performances (Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer”), Amos ‘n Andy, use of the “n word”, which used to be very common; housing and school segregation; these are just the tip of the iceberg.

          The fact that so many commenters don’t recognize the racism inherent in this statue shows how far we have to go, and how prevalent racism, both subtle and blatant, is on the UWS.

          if you want to “make life better for people who are alive”, let’s start by supporting desegregation of middle schools on the UWS. School segregation is a central hallmark of racial disparity; the arguments being made on the UWS against school integration are almost the same, word for word, that the racist opponents of Brown v Board of Ed made. there is no excuse for school segregation in this day and age. Let’s end it.

          • Leon says:

            Bruce,

            If you want to pivot to education, let’s do it. Have you been on any of the calls lately where our Board of Ed blatantly ignored the opinions of dozens of neighborhood parents to advance their personal agendas (while all of their kids are in screened schools already)?

            To help minority students, start as early as possible. By middle school it is too late. These kids from weaker elementary schools will fail and get frustrated. Invest in elementary schools and pre-elementary programs.

            I’m not sure why you pivoted to this topic but you struck a nerve with me. And I don’t know why you always choose to go after me of all people. Perhaps I should take out a restraining order on you. Or sentence you to a week in flyover country surrounded by evil Republicans (guess what – I’m not one).

            • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

              Leon,

              You accuse the CB 3 Community Education Council (CEC) of “advancing personal agendas” on the desegregation issue. What are these unnamed agendas? If the agenda is middle school desegregation, that is a community and social agenda, not a “personal” agenda.

              You accuse them of having “all their kids in screened schools.” How would you know that? And I don’t see how this is possible, as the CEC is elected through PTAs of all schools.

              Of course more resources should be provided to elementary and Pre-K programs in under-served neighborhoods. That goes along with middle school integration, it is not opposed.

              Leon said: “By middle school it is too late. These kids from weaker elementary schools will fail and get frustrated.”

              Both of these points are myths and have been used for decades as arguments against school desegregation. Most educators will disagree with you. Lower scoring kids sit next to higher scoring kids in middle schools throughout the country, and in the NYC suburbs. It only seems to be an issue when race is involved.

              We are not talking about “special needs” children. We are talking about kids who score 2 or 2.5 on the state test, instead of 3 or 4. The odds are most of them will benefit from desegregation.

            • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

              Leon,

              It’s impossible to answer all your points in 100 words, but I’ll do my best. You accuse CB 3 Community Education Council (CEC) of “advancing personal agendas”. But middle school desegregation is a community and social agenda, not a “personal” agenda. You accuse them of having “all their kids in screened schools.” How would you know that? Very unlikely.

              Of course more resources should be provided to elementary/Pre-K programs in under-served neighborhoods. That goes along with middle school integration, it is not opposed.

              Leon said: “By middle school it is too late. These kids from weaker elementary schools will fail and get frustrated.” These are both myths that have been used by opponents of school integration for decades, north and south. The vast majority of educators disagree with you.

    27. Alex says:

      the statue has nothing to do with racism. it is the perception that is the problem. there were white slaves as well as black. slavery was a business. in which black slavemasters also took part. removing statues will solve nothing. and yelling at each other will solve even less

      • Steevie says:

        There were no white slaves in America at any time. You may be thinking if indentured servants

    28. Peter Van Veld says:

      I’ve never been into decals that much but I just bought a USA Flag decal for my car. Probably someone will think I’m racist and bash my window in. I love this country and all the people.

    29. Ooana Trien says:

      This is the only statue Id ever protested to protect. I think what the reporter was referring to was that in the late 90s I protested to support a Terrance McNally production, “Corpus Christie” at City Center which was being demanded to close by religious right activists.

    30. Ooana Trien says:

      Actually. I’ve been generous. No. That’s not what I said. But my name isn’t Oonan Trenti either. 🤷‍♀️

    31. B flat says:

      I was fine with leaving the statue, but won’t miss it. It was a reminder to American black and Indian people of their inferior status. It served its purpose in its time. Times have changed, the statue was never not offensive. Good riddance to it and the nostalgia for the America it represents. Put up a new, better statue that represents Teddy the conservationist, not the white bwana fantasy.