New York City is removing the controversial statue of J. Marion Sim, a doctor infamous for performing gynecological experiments on enslaved black women in the 19th century. The statue, erected on the edge of Central Park in East Harlem in 1894, is being taken down on Tuesday after sitting there for more than 100 years.
Protests over the statue broke out last year, and in August it was flagged in NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call for a 90-day review of “symbols of hate on city property.” As the New York Daily News reports, the city’s Public Design Commission voted unanimously to remove the statue from East Harlem. It will be relocated to where Sims is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Sims is often dubbed the “father of modern gynecology,” but his discoveries came at the expense of at least a dozen enslaved women whom he experimented on without consent or anesthesia. Sims is part of a long legacy of racism in the medical field, where barbaric abuse and exploitation of black people made way for medical breakthroughs. “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, according to NYDN. “I fully support this proposal to relocate the statue from this honored, high-profile position in Central Park.”
“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, according to NYDN. “This is just the beginning of having some reconciliation.”
Some argued that the statue shouldn’t be relocated, but removed from NYC entirely. “The relocation of the Sims monument to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn by the City of New York denotes that this physical representation of anti-black violence will still stand and maintain its presence in the heart of yet another community of color,” activist Amrit Trewn said at a meeting at City Hall, according to the New York Times.
For now the city wants to keep the statue, but it’s unclear when it will be moved to Brooklyn.