For the past 80 years, visitors to the American Museum of Natural History in New York have entered its hallowed halls by walking past a bronze statue depicting Theodore Roosevelt, a Native American man, and an African man. Soon, though, that statue will no longer be located at the museum’s entrance.
But why is the Teddy Roosevelt statue being removed? News of the statue’s removal has come at a time when other statues around the country have been taken down due to their subjects’ connections to racism and / or colonialism. Is that the case for Teddy Roosevelt, too?
Why is the Teddy Roosevelt statue being removed from the Museum of Natural History?
While some statues have been unceremoniously removed by citizen activists over the past few weeks, the Teddy Roosevelt will be taken down via the official channels. The museum requested the statue’s removal, and New York City (which owns the building and the property), agreed to the decision.
Ellen V. Futter, the museum’s president, made it very clear that the museum is basing its decision on the actual composition of the statue — not necessarily on its subject. The statue features Teddy Roosevelt on a horse, while the Native American man and the African man are standing on the ground below him. Ms. Futter referred to this as a “hierarchical composition,” which appears to favor the white Theodore Roosevelt and subjugate the Black and Indigenous men also depicted.
Ms. Futter also confirmed that the museum still holds Theodore Roosevelt himself in high regard as a “pioneering conservationist.” If the statue had been of Theodore Roosevelt by himself, or if it hadn’t appeared to subjugate people of other races, there might not have been any discussion of taking the statue down. As it stands, however, the museum’s president asserts: “the time has come to move it.”
As you might expect, many people are unhappy with the museum’s decision to remove the problematic statue, arguing that doing so is some kind of erasure of history or is dishonoring Theodore Roosevelt’s memory. It’s not, for several reasons.
First of all, Theodore Roosevelt’s family agrees with the decision to move the statue. Theodore Roosevelt IV (Teddy’s great-grandson and a museum trustee) said: “The world does not need statues, relics of another age, that reflect neither the values of the person they intend to honor nor the values of equality and justice. The composition of the Equestrian Statue does not reflect Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy. It is time to move the statue and move forward.”
Secondly, while the Equestrian Statue will be removed from the museum’s entrance, Teddy himself will still be honored inside the museum. In fact, the museum will be naming its Hall of Biodiversity for Roosevelt “in recognition of his conservation legacy.” This will be in addition to several other museum spaces named after Roosevelt, including Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall, the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, and Theodore Roosevelt Park.
Even after the statue of Teddy Roosevelt is removed, it’ll be impossible for anyone to go to the museum and not pick up on the fact that they’re a big fan of the guy. As it turns out, there are many ways to honor people that don’t involve problematic statues. Go figure!