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Activists Demand Removal of Monument to Doctor Who Experimented on Slaves

By Shaye Weaver | August 21, 2017 5:07pm
 The statue has stood at the corner of 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue since 1934.
The statue has stood at the corner of 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue since 1934.
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EAST HARLEM — Protesters are demanding the city remove a statue in Central Park dedicated to a 19th century doctor who experimented on slaves — with one elected official comparing the controversial surgeon to Hitler. 

The monument was installed on Fifth Avenue and East 103rd Street in 1934 featuring Dr. J. Marion Sims, a surgeon who has been dubbed the "father of modern gynecology," according to the Central Park Conservancy.

Between 1845 an 1849, he performed gynecological experiments on 12 slaves without anesthesia, experts say.

On Saturday, protesters from the Black Youth Project 100 dressed up in "bloodied" hospital gowns to signify the pain and danger many enslaved women went through during experiments performed by Sims.

Elected officials held a press conference at the site Monday, the latest in a series of actions held to pressure the city to remove controversial statues and historic monuments across the city and country.

"The community has seen statues along the way for years, but once the community began to study these statues and understand what they mean, they found out that they come from a mentality and an era that are quite inconsistent with today and the future," said City Councilman Bill Perkins, who is helping lead the effort to remove the statue of Sims. "And while one might say it's just standing there, it represents us, and I don't believe that the community in general finds this something to brag about."

In 1855, Sims founded the Woman's Hospital, the first of its kind in America, where he performed operations on lower-class women.

The monument describes Sims as a surgeon and philanthropist whose "brilliant achievement carried the fame of American surgery throughout the entire world."

"Here's 'Hitler' in statue in the greatest city in the world, on one of the most important avenues, surrounded by the great Museum of the City of New York," Perkins added, noting the nearby museum's contributions to AIDS awareness. "It's a wonderful coincidence, as that monument is promoting activism for healing, and this monument is quite the opposite.

DNAinfo/Shaye Weaver

Perkins also stated that "we treat guinea pigs better than we treated those victims," calling the monument "an accident of ignorance."

"We evolve in our consciousness and appreciation of mistakes that might have been well-intended, or what we accepted as OK like slavery, but now we understand it's quite offensive," he added.

After the deadly clashes between protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city would be conducting a 90-day review of all "symbols of hate on city property."

On Monday, de Blasio told reporters during a press conference in Brooklyn that while he wouldn't comment on every single monument or statue, the city is going to consider those that promote hate or division.

"What I really think is important to do here — and this is why I’ve ordered a 90-day review — is that we’re going to look at all statues and monuments that in any way may suggest hate or division or racism, anti-Semitism, any kind of message that is against the values of New York City," he said. "People can come forward and point out things they have concerns about, and the task force we’ll put together in the next few days will evaluate each and every one and come back with a sense of a universal standard we can apply going forward.”

Church officials already removed a memorial to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that had been mounted to a tree outside St. Johns Episcopal Church in Fort Hamilton more than 100 years ago.

"This statue commemorating J. Marion Sims is indicative of one of the major truths about America: that the very foundation of our institutions is the oppression and exploitation of black people," added Seshat Mack, a representative of the BYP100 NYC Chapter, at Monday's press conference. "We cannot heal from these old wounds and grow as a country without acknowledging this dark past. Condemning white supremacy is the first step towards a more progressive society that truly values black and brown people.”

A City Hall spokesman reiterated what the mayor said earlier in the day, noting that "the Sims statue is obviously one that will get very immediate attention because there’s been a tremendous concern raised about it."

Perkins said the East Harlem community will continue to push for statue's removal until action is taken.

"I'm impatient about it," he said. "This is history to be outed. This should be used to teach and guarantee this is never to be repeated."