Neighbors of the Green-Wood cemetery are demanding that the “unwanted statue” of James Marion Sims, a 19th-century doctor who experimented on enslaved black women, not be placed in the cemetery.
The statue was moved from Central Park Tuesday, following years of protest by the East Harlem community and the recommendation by a mayoral panel set up to review controversial statues and monuments across the city. It was taken to Green-Wood in Brooklyn, where the physician is buried. The cemetery plans to put the statue by Sims’ gravesite.
But a group of residents, who live in Sunset Park, Kensington, South Slope and Windsor Terrace, have started a petition to keep it out of the cemetery, garnering 40 signatures as of Thursday morning.
“We welcome the city’s action to remove the statue, but its actions should end there,” an open letter from the residents says. “The city should not put additional money, energy and resources into other form of honoring J. Marion Sims.”
Sims is known as the father of gynecology, but his advancements in surgery were only achieved by operating on slaves without using anesthesia or getting consent, historians say.
“Statues are designed to honor the people they represent, and this statue is a monument to Sims’ racist legacy,” the letter says. “There is no space for honoring white supremacy in our neighborhood.”
Green-Wood has said keeping the statue at the cemetery is “not meant to glorify him.
“Rather, it is a visual focal point that will bring attention to a factual display that Green-Wood will build to document Sims’ story including his shameful experimentation on enslaved women in the South between 1845 and 1849,” president of the cemetery, Richard J. Moylan, said in a statement.
Green-Wood has “the responsibility to preserve this history, and not to whitewash it,” he added.
The residents say there are alternative ways to education visitors without putting the statue on display, and an East Harlem group that campaigned for the statue’s removal recommended the monument be buried at Sims’ gravesite.
The debate over the statue was brought up at a Community Board 7 meeting Wednesday evening, but a motion to have a vote to object to the placement was not seconded, District Manager Jeremy Laufer said. The board intends on speaking with the cemetery before offering a position.