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New York City Decides Not to Remove Controversial Public Monuments

After months of deliberation, the commission formed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to assess controversial public monuments in the five boroughs announced today that none of the works under consideration would be taken down. Instead, it recommended adding markers with historical context for the existing public works. However, one statue, a bronze monument dedicated to J. Marion Sims, who is known as the father of gynecology and a surgeon who experimented on American slaves, will be moved from its location in Central Park to the doctor’s burial place in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Other disputed monuments include the statue of Theodore Roosevelt, which stands in front of the Museum of Natural History; the Christopher Columbus monument in Columbus Circle; and the Philippe Pétain plaque in Lower Manhattan. Following a violent white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 in protest of the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, activists have redoubled their efforts to campaign for the city’s various tributes to these controversial figures to be taken down.

The Charlottesville rally also prompted a number of Southern politicians, including the mayors of Gainesville, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; and Louisville, Kentucky to denounce racism, bigotry, and hate and order a review of their cities’ monuments. Baltimore acted swiftly, ordering four Confederate statues to be taken down in the middle of the night. In order to determine the right course of action regarding New York’s public works, the mayor’s office held public hearings in each borough and launched an online survey to determine the role of the city’s monuments.

“Thousands of New Yorkers got involved in this process, and there’s been an important conversation going on across the city,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Reckoning with our collective histories is a complicated undertaking with no easy solution. Our approach will focus on adding detail and nuance to—instead of removing entirely—the representations of these histories. And we’ll be taking a hard look at who has been left out and seeing where we can add new work to ensure our public spaces reflect the diversity and values of our great city.”