NEW YORK — A bronze statue of a 19th century doctor who did experimental surgery without anesthesia on enslaved African-American women was removed from Central Park on Tuesday.
New York City’s Public Design Commission voted Monday to accept a mayoral panel’s recommendation to remove the statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims for relocation to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, where Sims is buried, accompanied by signage with historical context.
Dr. Bernadith Russell, a gynecologist, emotionally embraced a friend as they watched the statue being removed.
Russell said that when she was in medical school, Sims “was held up as the father of gynecology with no acknowledgement of the enslaved women he experimented on.”
The commission’s president, Signe Nielsen, wept on Monday when she called for the vote, The New York Times reported.
The names of many black women on whom Sims operated are unknown. Three of the names he recorded were Anarcha, Betsy and Lucy.
“I’m not a woman of color, but I am deeply moved by what we heard today,” said Nielsen.
Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio called for a review of “symbols of hate” on city property eight months ago following a white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August that left a person dead. The issue of possibly removing Confederate monuments initially prompted the white nationalists to gather.
Amrit Trewn, an activist who had advocated for demolition, said the decision to relocate the statue means “that this physical representation of anti-black violence will still stand and maintain its presence in the heart of yet another community of color.”
Michele Bogart, a former member of the design commission and an art history professor, had urged that the statue remain in Central Park, saying: “History matters. ... Don’t run from it.”
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