Theodore Roosevelt Library in North Dakota to take statue

MEDORA, N.D. (AP) — The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in North Dakota has agreed to take a controversial equestrian statue of the 26th president that has stood on the steps of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City since 1940.

The bronze statue, designed by James Earle Fraser, was commissioned by the Board of Trustees of the New York State Roosevelt Memorial in 1929. The library, which opens next year in Medora, North Dakota, will be getting it as a long-term loan.

The statue, which depicts the former president on horseback with a Native American man and an African man flanking the horse, has been the subject of years of criticism that it symbolizes colonial subjugation and racial discrimination. Objections grew more forceful after the death of George Floyd sparked a racial reckoning and a wave of protests across the U.S.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to remove the statue in 2020, calling it “problematic,” which drew an angry response from President Donald Trump, who tweeted, “Ridiculous, don’t do it!”

“We are grateful to the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library for proposing a fitting new home for the Equestrian Statue,” Vicki Been, New York’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said in a statement. “This long-term loan would allow an important part of the City’s art collection to be appropriately contextualized, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Library on next steps.”

With the support of members of the Roosevelt family, the library will establish an advisory council composed of representatives of Indigenous and Black communities, historians, scholars, and artists to “guide the recontextualization” of the statue.

“The Equestrian Statue is problematic in its hierarchical depiction of its subjects and should be removed from New York State’s official memorial to Theodore Roosevelt,” Theodore Roosevelt V said in the statement. “Rather than burying a troubling work of art, we ought to learn from it. It is fitting that the statue is being relocated to a place where its composition can be recontextualized to facilitate difficult, complex, and inclusive discussions.”

The American Museum of Natural History will aid in the relocation, which is expected to take several months. The move, including any plans to display the statue, requires final approval by New York City’s Public Design Commission.

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