Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Flickr / warsze
Citizenship

New York City Just Removed This Controversial Statue From Central Park

A statue of the 20th-century surgeon Dr. James Marion Sims was removed yesterday from New York’s Central Park after standing for more than 84 years, according to CBS’s New York affiliate.

Sims is known as a pioneering gynecologist whose legacy is deeply marred by the fact that he experimented on and abused slaves, according to CNN.

The decision to remove the statue was made by New York’s Public Design Commission, which was created by Mayor Bill de Blasio to investigate the city’s public monuments, CBS reports.

Take Action: Sign the Year of Mandela Declaration and Commit to Be the Generation to End Extreme Poverty

“By order of Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYC Parks has relocated the statue of Dr. James Marion Sims to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where Sims is buried,” reads a sign that was left in the statue’s place. “Plans are being developed to commission a new monument on this site.”

Other statues were under review, including a statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle that has been the site of frequent protests, but only the Sims statue was marked for removal by the commission.

The move is part of a broader push throughout the US to reckon with controversial historical figures who are commemorated in public spaces, according to CNN.

Like many of the flashpoints in this fight, Sims has both detractors and supporters.

Read More: 9 Black Activists Who Are Fighting Injustice And Fixing America

His supporters view him as an early leader in the field of gynecology who helped develop complex postpartum surgeries at a time when most doctors refused to treat female patients, according to the History Channel’s website.

His critics argue that his insights came at the gruesome expense of vulnerable women. In fact, Sims surgically experimented on enslaved and other women, according to the History Channel, and “caused untold suffering by operating under the racist notion that black people did not feel pain.”

"His fame and fortune were a result of unethical experimentation with powerless Black women,” the medical writer Durrenda Ojanuga wrote in a review of Sims’ career.

“Sims, 'the father of gynaecology', was the first doctor to perfect a successful technique for the cure of vesico-vaginal fistula, yet despite his accolades, in his quest for fame and recognition, he manipulated the social institution of slavery to perform human experimentations, which by any standard is unacceptable,” he added.

In recent years, protesters in the US have demanded that statues be removed, buildings be renamed, and public spaces be rehabilitated if they honor offensive figures. Instead, they argue that public spaces should showcase a more even-handed and truthful approach to history.

Read More: A Colorado Mosque Was Vandalized. The Community’s Response Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity.

Protesters in Charleston, South Carolina, have demanded that statues of Confederate generals be removed from Marion Square, especially in the aftermath of a mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a white supremacist that killed nine people.

Similarly, protesters at Princeton University have demanded that former president Woodrow Wilson’s name be removed from buildings because of his racist beliefs.

Supporters of the monuments say that such efforts amount to historical censorship.

These sides collided last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, when white supremacists organized a rally in defense of Confederate statues and a car was driven into a crowd of counter protesters, killing one and injuring dozens more.

Even US President Donald Trump has weighed in on the monuments debate, calling efforts to remove them “so sad” and “so foolish.”

Read More: George & Amal Clooney Just Donated $1 Million to Fight Hate in the US

When Sims’ statute was removed, few people showed up and no major protest was staged, according to CBS.

Even still, it was seen as a difficult process by Mayor de Blasio.

“It’s very complex, it’s not pretty,” he said in a statement. “In some ways it’s very painful but it’s not just one or the other side.”

Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals, which call for inclusive and tolerant societies. You can take action on this issue here.