Not carved in stone, views of U.S. statues change with the times

Mon Mar 24, 2014 10:03am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wearing only a strategically carved cluster of leaves, the chiseled male figure towering over two female forms in the 1922 marble sculpture "The Triumph of Civic Virtue" now watches over a lonely cemetery in Brooklyn.

The same statue, once representing victory over vice and corruption, was a long-time fixture on a pedestal outside Queens Borough Hall. Two years ago, it was decried as sexist and offensive by an angry public and exiled to Greenwood Cemetery.

Now civic groups are demanding a similar fate for an 1892 bronze statue in New York's Central Park of medical pioneer James Marion Sims, long revered as the father of modern gynecology, but more recently found to have experimented on female slaves.

Changing U.S. attitudes and values involving race, gender, and other issues are prompting demands to tear down decades-old statues of heroes now seen as villains by Americans who say history is not written in stone.

"People once taken to be heroes can, in an another era, look far less heroic," said David Greenberg, associate professor of History and of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Twenty-first century America's rejection of once common behavior, from slavery to mistreatment of women, children and laborers, has sparked outrage over monuments in parks, statehouses and other public spaces across the country.

The New York City Parks Department has deflected demands to remove the statue of Dr. Sims and instead plans to install a plaque adding historical context, said department spokeswoman Tara Kiernan.

"These debates have to do with shortcomings that at the time were seen by many people as normal or unremarkable, but strike us now as violating our ideas about racial equality, sexual equality, other values that are more a product of the last 50 or 60 or 70 years," Greenberg said.   Continued...