The statue of Dr. James Marion Sims, a 19th-century doctor who experimented on slaves, was moved Tuesday morning from Central Park to Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn, where the controversial physician is buried.
The decision to move the statue from Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street was made following recommendations from a mayoral panel that reviewed statues and monuments throughout the city. Mayor Bill de Blasio established the panel in August 2017 after violent white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee monument.
Sims is considered the father of gynecology by many, but he made his advancements by experimenting on enslaved African-American women without using anesthesia, historians say.
“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 panel wrote in a report released in January.
De Blasio, while speaking at an unrelated event Tuesday afternoon, said Sims’ history is complicated, but moving the statue was “a fair way to address a thorny situation.”
The issue is “very complex; it’s not pretty, it’s in some ways pretty painful, but it’s not just one side or the other side,” de Blasio said. “I think this is something that needs to be done moving forward. . .to show all the history.”
The Sims statue is the only monument in the city that the commission recommended to move. It will be kept in storage at Green-Wood until the cemetery constructs a historical display, which will put Sims’ work into context and be placed near his grave site, a spokeswoman for the cemetery said.
“Placing the sculpture near his grave site is not meant to glorify him,” the president of Green-Wood, Richard J. Moylan, said in a statement. “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.
“As a National Historic Landmark, the responsibility to preserve this history, and not to whitewash it, is something Green-Wood takes very seriously.”
A temporary sign will be placed at the Central Park site where the statue was until the city decides what to put in its place, officials said.
With Ivan Pereira