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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio says he supports the calls by the American Museum of Natural History to remove a “problematic statue” of Theodore Roosevelt that many say is a symbol of oppression and racial discrimination.
The statue, officially named Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt, was unveiled 80 years ago, and sits at the entrance of the museum.
The museum and the mayor cite the statue’s composition as the main concern, rather than Roosevelt’s legacy.
It depicts the former New York governor and the 26th U.S. president on horseback with an unnamed Native American and a man of African descent on foot on either side of the horse.
“The American Museum of Natural History has asked to remove the Theodore Roosevelt statue because it explicitly depicts Black and Indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior,” de Blasio said in a written statement obtained by NPR.
“The City supports the Museum’s request. It is the right decision and the right time to remove this problematic statue.”
The current President of the United States disagreed with the decision. President Trump tweeted after midnight Monday “Ridiculous, don’t do it!” in response to a Washington Times article on the issue.
The museum’s top officials said in a memo sent to staff on Sunday they had been “profoundly moved” by the national protests sparked after the death of George Floyd, a black man, who was killed when a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.
The museum’s leadership cited other reasons that factored into its decision.
“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 memo said.
“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.”
According to its website, the statue was commissioned in 1925 to be erected on the museum’s steps and was unveiled in 1940. The statue was intended to pay homage to Roosevelt as a “devoted naturalist and author of works on natural history.”
It is unclear when the statue will be removed or where it will go. Because it sits on city-owned property, those decisions will likely fall to New York City officials.
Theodore Roosevelt IV, a museum trustee and great-grandson to the former president, said in a statement provided by the museum that he also agrees the statue should be removed.
“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,” he said.
“The composition of the Equestrian Statue does not reflect Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy. It is time to move the Statue and move forward.”