Protesters protesting in front of and covering the Roosevelt statue with a parachute in October of 2016 (Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Years of advocacy by Indigenous groups and grassroots activists who called to remove the Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) have not persuaded the museum and the city, which owns the statue, to take down the controversial monument. But now, swept by the momentum of the historic Black Lives Matter protests and the toppling of racist monuments worldwide, the museum announced that the statue will finally be removed.

The news, first reported by the New York Times, came in an internal memo to the museum’s staff over the weekend. In the memo, the museum said that it has requested the city remove the statue, which the city has agreed to do.

“While the Statue is owned by the City, the Museum recognizes the importance of taking a position at this time,” the memo reads. “We believe that the Statue should no longer remain and have requested that it be moved.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio approved the request and joined the museum in a statement issued yesterday, June 21.

“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 said in a statement. “The City supports the Museum’s request. It is the right decision and the right time to remove this problematic statue.”

The defaced Teddy Roosevelt statue outside the American Museum of Natural History (courtesy of the Monument Removal Brigade)

The contentious statue, made by James Earle Fraser, features the former US President on horseback, flanked by two gun carriers: an Indigenous man to his right, and a Black man to his left. Unveiled in 1940, the statue was meant to “celebrate Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) as a devoted naturalist and author of works on natural history,” AMNH says on its website. The former president’s father was one of the museum’s founders, the institution adds, and says it is “proud of its historic association with the Roosevelt family.”

The recent protests against the monument go back to October of 2016 when the group Decolonize This Place organized the first Anti-Columbus Day tour inside the museum with the participation of other social justice movements. As a symbolic gesture, the protesters shrouded the statue with a parachute. A year later, members of the group Monument Removal Brigade (MRB) escalated the fight against the monument when they splashed the sculpture’s base with blood-red paint. In an interview with Hyperallergic, the group described the action as a “counter-monumental gesture that does symbolic damage to the values [the statue] represents: genocide, dispossession, displacement, enslavement, and state terror.”

On October 9, 2017, protesters encircle the Roosevelt statue in front of the American Museum of Natural History with red banners (Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

In response to the protests — including calls to remove the Christopher Columbus statue at Columbus Circle and the J. Marion Sims monument in Central Park, which has since been removed — de Blasio assembled an advisory commission in 2017 to review the statue and others. The Commission was unable to reach consensus but its final recommendation in 2018 was to keep the statue in place with additional interpretation and historical context.

Building on these recommendations, the museum mounted the exhibition Addressing the Statue in 2019. As part of the exhibition, a new informational plaque was added to the bronze. The plaque reads: “Some see the statue as a heroic group; others, as a symbol of racial hierarchy.”

A plaque was added to the statue in 2019 to provide historical context (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The city’s decision to remove the Roosevelt statue comes as a new wave of actions across the country has toppled Confederate and white supremacist monuments. Most recently, protesters in Raleigh, North Carolina tore down a Confederate monument at the state Capitol this past Juneteenth and hung the statue by its neck from a street light post. The night before, protesters in Portland, Oregon, pulled down a statue of George Washington and set it on fire while wrapped in a US flag. 

A statement from Theodore Roosevelt IV, the former president’s great-grandson and a trustee at AMNH, signifies the shift of attitude towards these disputed monuments.

“The world does not need statues, relics of another age, that reflect neither the values of the person they intend to honor nor the values of equality and justice,” Roosevelt said in a statement provided to Hyperallergic.

“The composition of the Equestrian Statue does not reflect Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy. It is time to move the Statue and move forward.”

In a statement today, Decolonize This Place welcomed the decision to remove the statue but reminded the city and the museum of two demands that remain unanswered: renaming Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day and “transforming the museum’s racist exhibition spaces,” in addition to repatriating humans remains and sacred objects, and “taking on the work of reparations.”

The group released a poster that shows the Roosevelt statue being removed with a crane in front of a crowd of protesters. The poster is a tribute “to all the groups and generations who have worked to remove this most hated monument from public view,” the group said.

A poster by Decolonize This Place marking the decision to remove the Roosevelt statue (courtesy of Decolonize This Place)

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...

20 replies on “After Years of Protest, Theodore Roosevelt Statue Will Be Removed From American Natural History Museum”

  1. Out-of-date statues in Russia, Hungary, Lithuania, India and so on are put into mothballs in Fallen Statue Parks – to satisfy those who still like them, perhaps, or in case they are needed again, or just because they are “art” or “our history” etc. What is going to be done with Theodore Roosevelt, the Indigenous and Black Americans, and the horse?

    1. I’m guessing they donate them to a prominent museum so that they’re put into a healthier context that can answer the questions of visitors. That’s the ideal scenario, I think.

      1. The ideal scenario is: leave the statue there, clean the pedestal of the obscenities that ignoramuses slapped onto it, and teach people who Theodore Roosevelt was, what he accomplished, what his viewpoint on excellence, race and morality was, and explain why this statue — this man — ought to be an inspiration to every American.

  2. Theodore Roosevelt established and funded your national park system, and he funded that museum. So since you idiots wish to remove all traces of your history, it is only fair to blow up that museum and sow the site with salt, oh – and get rid of all your national parks. For fuck sake, your idiocy of political correctness is going too too far. When are you as a nation going to grow up? By the way, every time your Black Lives Matter movement blocks traffic and fringe elements riot and destroy what the small businessman has worked hard to achieve – you do your cause little good. The pendulum swings, too far on side, it over-corrects the other way.. when will you realize this?

    1. Oh, sorry.. I forgot that ALL of our history is recorded in statue form and books and musuems don’t exist.

      “When are you as a nation going to grow up?”

      When we stop celebrating the oppression of people of color.

      “The pendulum swings, too far on side, it over-corrects the other way.”

      You really don’t see the irony in saying this about people fighting to curtail police violence towards people of color, do you???

    2. The statue has nothing to do with Roosevelt’s contributors to the museum as a collector of zoological specimens that remain part of the museum’s research collections in systematic zoology more than a century later or as an explorer, especially in South America, on behalf of the museum. Nor does it say anything about his pioneering efforts in conversation, which is continued today by his great-grandson Theodore Roosevelt IV, a trustee of this museum.

  3. I’ve seen it in person. I’m gonna miss the horse. Why not just keep Teddy on his steed and remove the Native American and African American? We probably wouldn’t have our National Parks if it wasn’t for Roosevelt. Funny thing is, I bet people of the era (1940) thought they were being “progressive” and “liberal” by even including the men on foot.

    1. Or maybe don’t remove the people of color to please white people. Maybe remove the whole damned thing and put up a monument that celebrates someone who wasn’t white.

    2. Yeah, they’ll put up another statue of him that’s a bit more respectful; his work creating the national Parks is a great legacy.

  4. This is outrageous pandering and a horrible attempt to eradicate our history, good and bad. The misguided degenerates of all ethnicities that are toppling statuary, looting and burning buildings and desecrating our flag in their infantile tantrum are incapable of building anything but hate. They know nothing of building, only tearing down. The great experiment has failed. No country cannot endure such massive ignorance. That these miscreants attack when our nation is so vulnerable from COVID-19 should have been treated as an act of treason. They will ultimately be their own demise. They deserve the country they will surely get under a true Stalin or Hitler.

    1. We don’t teach our history with statues. They aren’t trying to eradicate our history. They are trying to eradicate the celebration of oppression.

      1. So 2 guys with guns who are right beside him but are NOT killing him are oppressed by him? Never was any “Indian” guides? Never was any black employees? Seems to me they are willingly employed and not one bit oppressed, and the fact that he employed them means he was NOT oppressing them, but providing them with equal, or better, opportunity and chose them as employees rather than some wee pissants white guys, thus acknowledginh and honoring their superior abilities.

      2. Yes, we DO teach history with our statues. That’s the point of them, generally. Have you ever had a kid point to one and ask, “Who is that?” You call this statue a celebration of oppression? I contend that it is a celebration of oppression — a demonstration of oppression — to tear down these art objects just because some people don’t happen to like them. Want them down? Call for a plebiscite and vote them down!

      3. Sorry, late to reply I realise, but wanted to say I don’t believe history is taught or learned at all any more. It is demonstrated by the ignorance of those tearing down works of art depicting Lincoln, Junipero Serra and others who in part tried to help eradicate the very oppression you speak of.

  5. But why is it never mentioned that the statue was erected because Roosevelt was an early supporter and large contributor to the AMNH & it was the museum’s way to acknowledge not only his financial contributions, but also as an American explorer & naturalist?
    While I can see how different interpretations of the design came to be, I’ve always felt the statue has been misunderstood.

  6. The statue has been controversial for years, and Theodore Roosevelt IV, a trustee of the museum, has said publicly that the statue doesn’t represent his great-grandfather’s legacy. He’s right. As the Darwinian Conservative Republican that I am trained in evolutionary biology, those defending the statue have not acknowledged Roosevelt’s importance to the museum as both a scientific collector of zoology specimens – which remain as part of the museum’s research collections in systematic zoology more than a century later – and as an explorer. I am sure you didn’t realize that the demonstrators protested in front of the official New York state memorial to Roosevelt, comprising of two floors; the main entrance hall on the second floor and immediately below it, the staff entrance which includes displays of his personal effects and other memorabilia demonstrating his life-long love for and interest in natural history. To honor his importance as a conservationist, the museum will rename its Hall of Biodiversity – directly across from the 1st floor memorial hall – for Roosevelt and will be the third museum hall named in his honor. It’s a pity this wasn’t acknowledged during the protest and that is why I, as a Republican, must concur with someone who thought that last Sunday’s protest was one consisting of those who are losers.

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