It's been a rough month for statues associated with racism and/or colonialism. Since the death of George Floyd sparked massive nationwide protests, memorials to Confederate generals have been toppled across the country, as have effigies of Christopher Columbus, George Washington and former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo. Now, the American Museum Of Natural History has announced that it’s removing its equestrian monument of Theodore Roosevelt.
Sitting at AMNH’s entrance across from Central Park since 1940, the sculpture was always problematic for its depiction of Roosevelt atop a horse flanked by the figures of a Native American and a bare-chested African man—a familiar sight on the liberal Upper West Side that’s been, nevertheless, a symbol of white supremacy
As compensation for removing the statue, the AMNH is renaming its Hall Of Biodiversity for Roosevelt to honor his role as a pioneering conservationist who helped to establish the National Park system.
During his tenure as the 26th President, Roosevelt also supported progressive legislation as well as conservation, yet his enlightened domestic record co-existed with an unabashedly imperialistic foreign policy. He expanded U.S. control over Puerto Rico and the Philippines after the Spanish-American war, and built the Panama Canal, in part, to facilitate the movement of the U.S. fleet. To make matters worse, he was also a eugenicist.
The AMNH elected to take the statue down on its own, which is remarkable considering the museum's deep ties to Roosevelt: His father was a founding member of the institution and artifacts excavated by the young Roosevelt are included in the its collection.
Not everyone is happy with the decision: This morning President Trump tweeted "Ridiculous, don't do it"—which pretty much confirms that it’s a good idea.