LETTER FROM NEW YORK
The XXe century was American, and its hero was called Theodore Roosevelt. President of the United States from 1901 to 1909, this New Yorker with a thousand lives was a cowboy in the Dakota, an adventurer in love with the wilderness of Yellowstone National Park in the Amazon, a colonel in the American army and colonizer of Cuba, promoter of the Panama Canal, Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts in favor of the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth between Russia and Japan.
Alas, Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919) had a very cumbersome statue that sat in front of the New York Museum of Natural History, near Central Park. It is true that the work of sculptor James Earle Fraser, inaugurated in 1940, is delicate to defend, and one does not need to be “woke” to judge that it can be problematic: Roosevelt is enthroned on his horse, belt of cartridges around the waist, while trotting by his side an Indian with a headdress of feathers and a muscular black shirtless.
The statue corresponded to the thinking of Roosevelt, who was a racist of his time. In a 1905 speech on the centennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the abolitionist of slavery, President Roosevelt called “the advanced race” at “to preserve unscathed the high civilization forged by its ancestors” and to help “the backward race”, “man of color” gain “the priceless advantages of liberty, industrial efficiency, political ability, and private morality”.
“I don’t think the only good Indians are dead Indians, but that’s nine out of ten, not counting the tenth that I don’t want to look into. »Theodore Roosevelt
As for the Native Americans, he had declared about them in 1886, when the Indian wars were not over: “I don’t think the only good Indians are dead Indians, but that’s nine out of ten, not counting the tenth that I don’t want to look into.” When the statue was inaugurated in 1940, the New York Times had found nothing to complain about, quoting at the end of his article a eulogy of Theodore Roosevelt, “precursor of the essence of our modern liberalism”.
Since then, the statue had ended up becoming cumbersome. But we had to wait for the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement (« black lives matter »), following the May 2020 murder of African American George Floyd, who was suffocated by a white Minneapolis police officer, for New York City and the Museum of Natural History to agree to remove the artwork from ‘art. “Many of us find the depiction of Native American and African characters and their placement in the artwork to be racist”, the museum said in the summer of 2020. “It is the right decision and the right time to remove this problematic statue”, adds the mayor, Bill de Blasio.
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