A New York statue of President Theodore Roosevelt will soon be torn down. The statue resides in front of the American Museum of Natural History. Rather than Roosevelt’s legacy as the primary focus, the museum said the removal was due to what the statue itself depicts. Roosevelt’s statue is the latest target in a campaign of revisionist remodeling throughout the United States and Europe.
The American Museum of Natural History made the following statement regarding Roosevelt’s removal:
“The museum has asked to remove the Theodore Roosevelt statue because it explicitly depicts black and indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior.”
Many have criticized the statue for years. Activists called for its removal not because of Teddy Roosevelt’s history, but primarily for what the statue itself depicts. In the statue, Roosevelt walks on horseback alongside a Native American on foot. People have called it a symbol of white oppression, subjugation, and colonial expansion.
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Theodore Roosevelt’s great-grandson, Theodore Roosevelt IV, did not publically oppose the museum’s decision to remove his ancestor’s statue. In a statement, he said, “The composition of the equestrian statue does not reflect Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy. It is time to move the statue and move forward.”
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Donald Trump, generally opposed to the removal of such landmarks, tweeted in protest to the museum’s decision. Along with a link to a news story describing the statue’s removal, Trump tweeted, “Ridiculous, don’t do it!”
Fox News host Tucker Carlson called Roosevelt “the most American president” while also lamenting the decision. He said that “the list of Teddy Roosevelt’s achievements could fill entire shelves with biographies.”
Indeed, Roosevelt is a surprising target for activists. While leaders like Andrew Jackson and confederate generals naturally ruffle feathers for their racist legacies, Roosevelt’s reputation is more complex. He was the first president to invite a black man to the White House for dinner – Booker T Washington in 1901. He launched in the FDA and the Parks Department, two major progressive achievements.
It seems that, despite Roosevelt’s record, the perceived racism of the statue itself overshadows his achievements. Its allusion to Roosevelt’s imperialist views also overshadow his achievements.
Massive Historical “Remodeling”
President Roosevelt may be the most surprising likeness to be removed during the wave of protests over the last month. However, he’s far from the first. Across the United States and Europe, protestors continue to deface, destroy or formally remove statues and other landmarks. These statues generally celebrate historical figures with racist or colonialist connotations. Such historical figures include Andrew Jackson and Robert E. Lee.
The removal of these statues is controversial. On one hand, it is rather strange that giant sculptures of Confederate leaders adorn the streets of so many American cities. The confederacy was an enemy of the United States, and we fought a costly war to defeat it and maintain the integrity of the Union.
A statue of King George or Ho Chi Minh, other US adversaries in bloody wars, would never be erected in our cities. The Civil War was a brutal struggle, and was fundamentally a moral battle for the character of the country. It is strange that the victorious nation, the United States, would celebrate its enemy with these statues.
At the same time, the sweeping notion to dismantle celebrated figures of our history presents a slippery slope. From Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, almost no early US leader is completely guiltless in a modern assessment of his racial views. If people measure every white leader from our nation’s founding, according to the cultural norms of today, and condemned for any blemishes, we will find ourselves with few national heroes.
If we choose to view our nation’s historical heroes as villains, we may soon forget the values they espoused as they built, grew, and defended our republic.
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