Published On: Tue, Apr 17th, 2018

Statue of doctor who experimented on slaves to move to Brooklyn


A city board signed off Monday on a plan to remove a Central Park statue of a notorious doctor who experimented on slaves.


The statue of J. Marion Sims will be moved Tuesday morning after the Public Design Commission voted unanimously to relocate it to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.


The move was proposed by Mayor de Blasio’s monuments commission, which looked at controversial statues all over the city — but ended up recommending moving only Sims, who was once hailed as the father of modern gynecology but has more recently been reviled for doing many of his experiments on enslaved black women without anesthesia.


“These procedures were part of a shameful legacy of experimentation by white doctors on black bodies,” said Tom Finkelpearl, the city’s cultural affairs commissioner and the head of the monuments panel.

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“I fully support this proposal to relocate the statue from this honored, high-profile position in Central Park.”


The statue will now be installed on a low base next to Sims’ grave at Green-Wood. It’s unclear when it will go up, since the cemetery first plans to install explanatory signs.


“Women of African descent, black and brown women have consistently had our reproductive freedoms and rights oppressed,” said Chanel Porchia-Albert, founder of Ancient Song Doula Services, who spoke at a public hearing before the design commission vote.


“This is just the beginning of having some reconciliation.”

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Other speakers were split, saying the statue should not be publicly displayed in Brooklyn either, or that it should stay put.


Marina Ortiz of East Harlem Preservation, which has long pushed to get rid of the statue at E. 103rd St., thanked the city for removing it but said they were wrong to leave the statue’s pedestal in place.


“This decision robs the East Harlem community of the chance to lay the foundation for an entirely new artistic vision,” she said. “We want to tell our own stories in our own way.”


Michele Bogart, a professor at Stony Brook University, said it was wrong to remove the statue.


“History matters. Don’t run from it. The Sims monument is part of New York City’s history,” she said. “The significance of the monument does not derive merely from our present day feelings and our assessments of whether the subject of the work was a good or bad person. The meaning of public sculptures goes far beyond that.”


City Councilwoman Inez Barron said it should be taken down — but not put on display at the Brooklyn cemetery.


“We’re not talking about changing history,” Barron (D-Brooklyn) said. “We’re saying it is a horror, and it should not be honored or elevated.”


“Green-Wood Cemetery has said they’re willing to take it. Fine. Complete the job and bury it,” she said.


The city plans to design a new display for the Central Park site, which may include recognizing victims or women’s accomplishments in medicine, but details have not been decided.


De Blasio’s statue commission recommended leaving other controversial statues like the one of Christopher Columbus at Columbus Circle in place, in some cases adding signs to explain the controversy.

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