City's controversial Columbus, Roosevelt statues to stay: Mayor

Joann Johnston
January 13, 2018

Critics of Columbus and the statue honoring him said the Italian explorer was a murderous colonizer who exploited Native Americans and others, while those defending Columbus accused critics of attempting to hastily whitewash history.

The city will also commission a new monument honoring indigenous people. City Hall sources told NBC 4 NY that out of the thousands of surveys and responses submitted to the commission, not one asked to keep the statue of Sims. A location has yet to be determined.

The scrutiny of Columbus riled Italian-American groups, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he favored keeping the sculpture. Blasio announced the "symbols of hate" commission last August in a Twitter post. CBS New York first reported on the outcome of the review, which was then approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

"Our approach will focus on adding detail and nuance to - instead of removing entirely - the representations of these histories", de Blasio's statement said.

"The recommendation to add historical markers to many of our city's statues in most cases strikes an appropriate balance, preserving art that is meaningful to many New Yorkers while explaining the context, that these historic figures have not always acted in a way that deserves veneration".

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The commission recommended moving the controversial statue of J. Marion Sims, now in Central Park, to Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Although Cantave and other opposed to the Columbus statue were defeated, the city said that it plans to put up new historical markers in and around Columbus Circle to "continue the public discourse". Officials have decided that only one statue will be moved: that of Dr. J. Marion Sims, a 19th-century gynecologist who experimented on female slaves without their consent, and without anesthesia. The city will install informational plaques on both the relocated statue and the pedestal that remains on the Upper West Side to provide more context on the statue.

Another controversial statue, that of Theodore Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History (which was smeared in red paint in October) will also remain in place, but there will be additional signage and education programs undertaken by the museum to offer more background on Roosevelt. And the Department of Cultural Affairs is looking into commissioning a new artwork in the vicinity.

With respect to the Canyon of Heroes/Henry Phillipe P├ętain plaque on Broadway in Lower Manhattan, de Blasio said the city will keep all markers memorializing ticker-tape parades in place and weigh opportunities to add context, such as way-finding, onsite signage and historical information about the people for whom parades were held.

The Downtown Alliance has also partnered with the Museum of the City of NY to research more detailed biographical information on the individuals with markers along Broadway and will make the information accessible through an app and web page. Indigenous People's Day replaced Columbus Day in 55 cities, including Seattle, Santa Fe, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Denver and Phoenix.

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