The City of New York has agreed to remove a controversial statue of J. Marion Sims, a 19th-century physician whose gynecological advancements came at the expense of hundreds of enslaved women on whom he experimented without their consent.
The statue has stood prominently outside Manhattan’s Central Park in East Harlem since 1894, but it was flagged by a review NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered to assess any “symbols of hate on city property.” The New York Daily News reports that the city’s Public Design Commission voted unanimously to remove the statue from East Harlem and relocate it to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where Sims is buried.
Sims is credited with a number of medical breakthroughs, including the surgical repair of vesicovaginal fistulas, a condition often brought on by childbirth that can leak urine into the vaginal vault. His advancements earned him a reputation as the “father of modern gynecology.” But as modern historians have noted, Sims bought or borrowed at least a dozen enslaved black women and used their bodies to practice and perfect his surgical techniques, all without affording them informed consent or anesthesia. Sims’s advancements, netted by barbaric means, shed light on the long history of racism in the medical industry.
“Women of African descent, black and brown women have consistently had our reproductive freedoms and rights oppressed,” Chanel Porchia-Albert, who runs low-cost pregnancy care group Ancient Song Doula Services, said at a public hearing. “This is just the beginning of having some reconciliation.”
Some critics did take issue with the city’s decision to relocate, and therefore not totally remove, the statue, though it will certainly see far less foot traffic at Green-Wood. “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.
But the city says it wants to remember darker moments in history, if not elevate them, hence why it will not destroy the statue. The city will remove the statue on Tuesday, though it’s not clear when it will arrive at its final resting place in Brooklyn.
Manhattan’s Sims statue isn’t the only one drumming up controversy; in August, the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina asked the state to remove the city’s own statue of Sims. The state has not complied.