Years-long campaign victorious in removal of Central Park statue of slave owning scientist

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New York City’s Design Commission approved the removal of the statue of James Marion Sims located in Central Park

A team of workers from parks and recreation extracted a reminder of abusive practices and non-consensual medical experimentation when they carted off the bronze and granite effigy of James Marion Sims from Central Park on Tuesday.

Known as “the father of gynecology” to modern American medicine, Sims’ career revolved around experimenting on the reproductive organs of a dozen or more black women for years.

Since 2010, a campaign to remove the statue by East Harlem Preservation comes to an end. For almost a decade, continual protests in front of the statue, by mostly black women, have taken place.

A statement by East Harlem Preservation said,“Dr. Sims is not our hero, and we don’t need any reminders of his barbarities. We bear the pain and burden of intergenerational trauma every day.”

In 2017, New York mayor Bill de Blasio formed a Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers to explore controversial historical figures of public art such as Sims, Christopher Columbus and Theodore Roosevelt.

East entrance to the American Museum of Natural History overlooking Central Park West, New York City. Theodore Roosevelt statue with Native man has caused controversy over the years for Roosevelt’s part in killing Native nations and removing them from their land.

The commission was put together after the bloody Charlottesville protest to stop the removal of the statue of a Confederate figure. Following other cities, New York, a city that became profitable from slavery before its abolition in 1827, has several markers linked to its sordid past.

The committee decided to either relocate or keep locations of statues, but add another lens into their history.

Central Park was not the original home of the Sims statue. Initially, it was erected in Bryant Park then moved to the perimeter of Central Park on Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street.

Central Park itself is a contentious space. An African American and native hamlet called, Seneca Village was razed in 1857 to build the recreational land. The black and Native landowners were called “vagabonds and scoundrels” by local whites, but it was the first prominent and well-off black community in Manhattan. The mayor at the time, Ambrose Kingsland forced the residents’ relocation to create a green space for the growing urban population.

The statue, much like the white woman manager at Starbucks, was relocated to Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn, where Sims is buried.

In a statement, de Blasio said, “Reckoning with our collective histories is a complicated undertaking with no easy solution … our approach will focus on adding detail and nuance to—instead of removing entirely—the representations of these histories.”

In response to the City’s decision, the East Harlem Preservation organization stated,

“Although we are grateful for the Mayor’s gesture, we are also displeased that the wishes of over 20,000 petitioners, activists, and legislators who strongly objected to the monument’s presence our neighborhood have not been fully acknowledged. New York City should not be keeping White Supremacy on any pedestal—and certainly not in this community.”

Researcher Harriet Washington who wrote the book, Medical Apartheid, details the ways in which women were forced to hold each other down as Sims performed major surgeries of their wombs without anesthesia and often in front of other scientists.

From hysterectomies to clitorectomies, Sims, who was also a slave owner, is noted to pioneer a surgical technique to repair vesicovaginal fistula, a condition that enslaved women often suffered after childbirth due to inhumane conditions for pregnancy and delivery.

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