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Columbus statue stays, Dr. J. Marion Sims monument should be moved, city commission says

Controversial statues will get signs explaining the issues, according to a report by a mayoral commission.

The Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus Circle won't

The Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus Circle won't be moved, under the recommendations by the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

A mayoral panel tasked with the fate of controversial statues and monuments of historical figures, such as Christopher Columbus, has recommended that all but one stay put, but that the government affix signage explaining the various controversies, according to a report issued Thursday night.

The Columbus statue in his eponymous circle near 59th Street — a source of Italian-American pride but animus to American Indian groups over his treatment of natives he encountered — should get “new historical markers” nearby, and the city ought to commission a new monument to indigenous people, the 42-page “historical reckoning” report recommended.

“Reckoning with our collective histories is a complicated undertaking with no easy solution,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a written statement, adding: “We’ll be taking a hard look at who has been left out and seeing where we can add new work to ensure our public spaces reflect the diversity and values of our great city.”

De Blasio established the 18-member panel following his tweet in August, posted after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a counterprotester was slain. Across the country, there has been a debate over whether to remove monuments to Confederate symbols, and vandalism by those who say the government isn’t acting quickly enough. De Blasio said last year that the panel would scrutinize “all symbols of hate” in the city, where vandals also desecrated several controversial statues like Columbus’.

More than 800 monuments, statues and markers were considered by de Blasio’s commission.

The only statue to go: one near Central Park at Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street of Dr. J. Marion Sims, the father of gynecology, because he pioneered the field by experimenting on slaves who gave questionable consent. Sims’ statue would be moved to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn under the recommendations.

“In its current location, the Sims monument has come to represent a legacy of oppressive and abusive practices on bodies that were seen as subjugated, subordinate, and exploitable in service to his fame,” the committee wrote in the report.

A statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the Museum of Natural History showing the former president on a horse with indigenous and black men at his side will stay, but the panel recommended adding signage and working with the museum to design “educational programs” on “multiple interpretations” of the sculpture.

A sidewalk marker in lower Manhattan’s Canyon of Heroes installed during World War I to honor Henri Philippe Pétain for valor — who became a Nazi collaborator in World War II — will stay, even though de Blasio had tweeted last year that the plaque would be “one of the first we remove.” He had blamed his staff for tweeting the wrong thing.

The city will aim to “add context” to the marker and recommended removing the name “Canyon of Heroes” because it “mischaracterizes the installation as a celebration of heroic figures who, in some cases, do not reflect contemporary values of New York City.”

The panel’s suggestions must be approved by the Public Design Commission under the law.


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