An 80-year-old statue depicting former president Theodore Roosevelt on horseback, high above an Indigenous man and an African man standing on each side, will be removed from the front steps of the American Museum of Natural History.
"The Statue has long been controversial because of the hierarchical composition that places one figure on horseback and the others walking alongside, and many of us find its depictions of the Native American and African figures and their placement in the monument racist," a statement on the museum's website says. "While the Statue is owned by the City, the Museum recognizes the importance of taking a position at this time. We believe that the Statue should no longer remain and have requested that it be moved."
The museum building and property is owned by New York City; the NY Times reports that the museum proposed the removal and the city agreed.
"Over the last few weeks, our Museum community has been profoundly moved by the ever-widening movement for racial justice that has emerged after the killing of George Floyd," the museum statement also reads. "We also have watched as the attention of the world and the country has increasingly turned to statues and monuments as powerful and hurtful symbols of systemic racism."
The statue attracted controversy for years. In October 2017, hundreds of activists, from groups including Decolonize this Place, NYC Stands with Standing Rock, and the Black Youth Project 100, unfurled "Decolonize This City" banner inside the museum during an anti-Columbus Day action and asked for the removal of the statue among the demands.
Two weeks later, the statue was vandalized with red paint.
The AMNH notes that between 2017 and 2018 the "Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers considered whether to remove the Statue along with two other New York City monuments and one historical marker. The Commission did not reach consensus on the Statue, and the City directed that it should stay in place with additional interpretation and context to be provided by the Museum."
That context is the museum's "Addressing the Statue" exhibition, which includes analysis from scholars and artists. Andrew Ross, a professor and director of the American Studies program at NYU, said, "I would call it a monument to white supremacy because of the [portrayal] of the three figures: the figure on horseback who is clearly superior and relying on the labor of those on foot who are clearly in a subordinate position."
The museum will still honor Roosevelt's contribution to conservation by naming the Hall of Biodiversity after; the AMNH says they "will remain the site of New York State’s official memorial to Theodore Roosevelt." Theodore Roosevelt IV, a great-grandson who is also on the museum's board, told the Times, "The world does not need statues, relics of another age, that reflect neither the values of the person they intend to honor nor the values of equality and justice. The composition of the Equestrian Statue does not reflect Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy. It is time to move the statue and move forward."
It is unclear when exactly the statue will be removed.