Controversial Roosevelt monument sprayed with red paint at American Museum of Natural History
Theodore Roosevelt’s equestrian statue at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City was splashed with red paint a few minutes after midnight this morning, October 6. The guerrilla action comes days before the annual Indigenous Peoples Day (or Columbus Day) on October 11, which has seen large protests against the controversial monument in previous years.
In the wee hours of the morning, unidentified demonstrators splashed blood-red paint on the 1939 bronze plinth and the museum’s stairs. Previously, the museum had been filled with hundreds of prestigious guests attending the 2021 PEN America Literary Gala. The AMNH has yet to respond to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
In June 2020, amid the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, the AMNH announced it would remove the long-contested statue after years of protests by indigenous groups and grassroots activists. The decision, proposed by the museum and accepted by New York City, was first shared in an internal staff memo that was revealed by the New York Times. However, the statue is still standing over a year after the decision was made.
Directed by James Earle Fraser, The Challenged The statue depicts the former US president on horseback, flanked by two anonymous gun bearers: an indigenous man to his right and a black man to his left. Unveiled in 1940, the statue was intended to “celebrate Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) as a dedicated naturalist and author of books on natural history”, AMNH said on his site. The father of the former president was one of the founders of the museum, the institution says, adding that it is “proud of its historic association with the Roosevelt family”.
According to Gothamist, a series of bureaucratic hurdles, including two inconclusive hearings, delayed the statue’s removal. It wasn’t until June that the NYC Public Design Commission finally voted to retire the work, unanimously approving a proposal to move the statue to an institution dedicated to the life and memory of Roosevelt.
In 2017, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio formed an advisory commission to examine the Roosevelt statue and other racist landmarks across the city. Failing to reach a consensus, the committee final recommendation in 2018 was to keep the law in place with additional interpretation and historical context. Based on these recommendations, the museum mounted the exhibition Address the statue in 2019. As part of the exhibition, a new information plaque has been added to the bronze. The plaque reads: âSome see the statue as a heroic group; others, as a symbol of racial hierarchy.
Protests against the monument date back to the 1970s. In October 2016, the Decolonize This Place group organized the first Anti-Columbus Day tour inside the museum with other militant groups. As a symbolic gesture, the demonstrators wrapped the statue in a parachute. In 2017, the statue’s plinth was first disfigured with red paint by members of the Monument Removal Brigade (MRB) group. Over the years, activist groups have repeated calls for the museum and the city to rename Columbus Day, remove the Roosevelt monument and “respect the ancestors.”
“Other major cities have been proactive in removing offensive monuments and renaming Columbus Day,” wrote Decolonize This Place, which said it was not involved in today’s action, in a comment to Hyperallergic this morning. “What’s wrong with New York?” It’s been 16 months since the mayor agreed to remove the Roosevelt triptych, and he still hasn’t moved to properly recognize Indigenous Peoples Day.
“The delay is inexcusable, and pours insult to injury,” the group added. “Rename, delete and respect ancestors!” “
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