‘A first step’

Statue of gynecologist who performed experiments on slave women is removed, prompting controversy

A Parks Department worker places a harness over a statue of J. Marion Sims, a surgeon celebrated by many as the father of modern gynecology, before it is taken down from its pedestal at Central Park and East 103rd Street on April 17, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

While many New Yorkers celebrated the removal of a century-old state of J. Marion Sims, a gynecologist who performed experimental surgeries on slave women at his home in Alabama, from its perch near Central Park, some have questioned why the statue was being relocated rather than destroyed. Richard J. Moylan, the president of the Green-Wood Cemetery, has given the statue a new home in the famous Brooklyn cemetery, accompanied by a plaque explaining Sim’s checkered history. Moylan has taken similarly controversial statues before — most notably, a statue known as “Civic Virtue” which depicted an 11-foot-tall man, crushing naked women, who symbolized vice, beneath his feet.

In an article for The New York Times, reporter Ginia Bellafante questioned the claims of city officials who celebrated the removal of the statue, noting that the monument was actually just “moving from one highly trafficked quarter of the urban landscape to another.” The Green-Wood cemetery, a national historic landmark, took in more than 280,000 visitors last year. The so-called removal, she added, was more so “a photo opportunity and a first step” than a “consummate expression of moral authority.”

Moylan, for his part, justified taking in the statue by saying that the accompanying plaque would provide “an opportunity to tell the story, good and bad” of the famous gynecologist’s life. But according to Bellafante, the idea that people are “at risk of forgetting the darker aspects of our past” belies the reality that racism continues to have devastating effects. Black women are reportedly three to four times more likely to die during pregnancy than white women, and the racial disparity in infant mortality rates has become even higher today than it was in 1850, back when Sims was performing gynecological experiments on slave women.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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