A statue of J. Marion Sims, a 19th century surgeon who performed painful medical experiments on slaves without anesthesia, was removed from New York City’s Central Park Tuesday morning. The removal is part of a review of “symbols of hate,” which Mayor Bill de Blasio called for after last year’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one woman dead.
Sims is known as the “father of modern gynecology.” He invented the speculum and treated women in a time when few people did. Sims’ also developed a technique to repair vesicovaginal fistuas, a painful tear that could happen during childbirth. But Sims developed the surgery by experimenting on black women without anesthesia, only performing the surgery on white women — and using anesthesia — once he had perfected the technique through his painful experiments.
The New York City Parks Department removed the statue from the park early Tuesday, but it will eventually be put up again in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where Sims is buried. The statue was removed just hours after the city’s Public Design Commission voted unanimously in favor of relocation Monday.
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According to local media, a large group of people gathered around as a crew pulled down the monument Tuesday morning, shouting “Take it down! Marion Sims is not our hero!”
But the decision to erect the statue again instead of removing it entirely drew the ire of some activists.
“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,” Amrit Trewn, an activist, said, according to The New York Times.
City Councilwoman Inez Barron (D) agreed, saying at Monday’s hearing, “Green-Wood Cemetery has said they’re willing to take it. Fine. Complete the job and bury it.”
When the statue is put up in the cemetery, it will reportedly be accompanied by information about Sims’ experiments and history.
The names of many black women on whom Sims experimented are not known. The three that are, Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy — along with the unnamed victims — have been suggested as possible replacements for Sims’ former statue in Central Park. The city will consult with the local community to determine what should replace Sims in the park, a mayoral spokesperson told the Times.
The monument to Sims is among a number of other statues that have drawn controversy in New York in recent months. Protesters have pushed the American Museum of Natural History to remove the a statue of Theodore Roosevelt, and a statue of Christopher Columbus became an issue in the recent mayoral election, though de Blasio ultimately decided the statue should remain with added information about Columbus’s treatment of Native Americans.