Racist statue of Dr. James Marion Sims comes down

By Dolores Cox
April 21, 2018

Sims performed hundreds of surgeries on enslaved women without anesthesia, antiseptics or their consent.

The controversial statue honoring Dr. J. Marion Sims, known as “the father of gynecology” for his medical advances in the treatment and cure of pregnant women with vaginal fistula, was finally removed on April 17 from a perimeter wall of New York City’s Central Park.  Erected there more than 80 years ago, the statue faced the New York Academy of Medicine across the street.

Sims’ reputation was based on performing torturous and mutilating surgical experiments on enslaved Black women, without antiseptics or available anesthesia. Sims was a slave owner with no training in gynecology who viewed Black people as inferior and ignorant. He performed hundreds of surgeries on Black women between 1845 to 1849 in the South, with some dying as a result. On one 17-year-old girl, he performed 30 surgeries over a four-year period. Sims later moved from Alabama to New York.

Sims’ statue became known as one of the numerous monuments symbolizing white supremacy throughout the U.S. The current residents of the Central Park neighborhood near the statue are predominantly Black and Latinx. For a decade, the community protested the presence of the statue and what it historically represents, adding to intergenerational emotional trauma.

In 2007, activist Viola Plummer, along with then City Councilmember Charles Barron, petitioned the Parks Department to remove the statue. The East Harlem Preservation Inc. advocacy organization began a campaign for the statue’s removal in 2010.  And in 2011, then City Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito called for the Sims statue to be brought down.

At different points, Mark-Viverito called Sims’ “despicable acts … repugnant and reprehensible.” (New York Daily News, Aug. 21, 2017), and commented, “This individual is considered the father of gynecology, but he practiced and basically tortured enslaved women.” (NYDN, April 17). Local politicians Letitia James and Inez Barron were among current supporters of the statue’s removal.

In January, Mayor Bill de Blasio created a Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers to review “all symbols of hate” in New York City. Over 800 public symbols were under consideration. The final report recommended that “all statues will remain except that of Dr. Marion J. Sims, known as the [19th century] father of gynecology for his brutal experimentation and racist practice of performing unethical surgical techniques on enslaved Black women, without anesthesia, antiseptic or their consent.” (tinyurl.com/yb6rfu86)

On April 16, in a triumph for community organizing against racism, the Public Design Commission voted unanimously to take down the Sims statue. The following day, the Parks Department removed it. The statue is being relocated to Sims’ burial site in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

A previous article on the community struggle against Sims’ statue is at East Harlem residents say, ‘Remove the racist Sims’ statue!’