MONUMENTS AND HISTORY
The nation’s 26th president is the latest to be displaced
The Committee for the Removal of Public Monuments has bagged its biggest trophy to date. Last week, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio acceded to a request from Ellen Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History, to remove the equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, that fronts the museum entrance on Central Park West.
“The Statue has long been controversial because of the hierarchical composition that places one figure on horseback and the others walking alongside, and many of us find its depictions of the Native American and African figures and their placement in the monument racist,” Futter wrote in a letter to the mayor. She added, “While the Statue is owned by the City, the Museum recognizes the importance of taking a position at this time.”
The Roosevelt statue has long been a target for progressives. Last year the museum organized an exhibition, “Addressing the Statue,” which did a poor job of exploring the issues involved. As our critic Edward Rothstein wrote at the time, “[T]he exhibition actually does very little to help explain the statue or to put it in context. And while it claims to want to participate in a ‘national conversation’ by presenting a variety of views, its own weigh down the scales.”
This current anti-monument wave degrades what originated as a legitimate grievance: the presence of Confederate monuments, many erected during the Jim Crow era to perpetuate the Lost Cause myth and advance white supremacy. But that idea has been taken over now by what has turned into a mob intent on willy-nilly eradication of chunks of American history.
And so during the recent protests in Boston, we saw the spray-painting of the Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial, a monument to the first African-American regiment to fight in the Civil War and an emblem of racial reconciliation and harmony. They toppled a statue of Ulysses S. Grant in San Francisco. Never mind that as president, Grant enforced Reconstruction, lobbied for passage of the 15th Amendment and prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan.
With the capitulation of the Natural History Museum’s leadership, the coerced erasing of U.S. history has gained momentum. It is a good moment for what remains of unintimidated funders of these institutions to consider whether their money could be put to better use elsewhere.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL