A commission created to figure out what to do with controversial statues and monuments on New York City property issued its recommendations Friday, calling on the city to keep most of them where they are but to add historical markers to give additional context, with just one moved from its high-profile location.
Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the statue review last summer amid a national outcry over violence surrounding a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the removal of a Confederate statue. Attendees and counterdemonstrators brawled, and a counterdemonstrator was killed when car plowed into a crowd of protesters.
At the time, de Blasio said a task force would be created to review “symbols of hate” on city property with an eye toward determining whether removals were necessary. But a concerted push by some politicians led to other American icons coming under scrutiny, including the statue of Christopher Columbus that stands above Columbus Circle and one of President Theodore Roosevelt at the American Museum of Natural History.
Some hold Columbus, the 15th century explorer who “discovered” America for the Europeans, responsible for the displacement of Native Americans. And some are displeased that the statue of Roosevelt riding a steed is accompanied by a statue of a black man, apparently his aide.
For the Columbus and Roosevelt statues, the city would add historical markers and commission a new monument to honor indigenous people. Other markers would be added elsewhere to give additional context for other statues and monuments.
A Central Park statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, who operated on slave women to develop advances in surgery, is the only one being moved, to the Brooklyn cemetery where he is buried. A plaque in lower Manhattan for Henri Philippe Petain, the wartime leader of Vichy France who collaborated with the Nazis, will stay.
The decision not to move the Petain plaque didn’t sit well with Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
“It is immoral to publicly display the names of Nazis,” he said.
On Thursday, de Blasio said in a statement, “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.”
The scrutiny of Columbus riled Italian-American groups, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he favored keeping the sculpture. He said he saw it as honoring Italian heritage in New York, not overlooking the harm the explorer did to indigenous people.