___________________________________________________________________________________________An unwanted statue honoring J. Marion Sims was removed from Central Park earlier this week, due to many years of neighborhood organizing work. The city announced it would be moving the statue from Harlem to our area, placing it in Green-Wood Cemetery. The community in Harlem fought for years to have this statue removed, and we are a group of neighbors who do not want to see it publicly displayed in our community either.
J. Marion Sims was a doctor who conducted medical experimentation on enslaved black women in the 19th century. He performed non-consensual gynecological surgeries without anesthesia, which was available and used at that time. This statue serves as an unwelcome reminder of centuries of U.S. non-consensual medical experimentation on black and brown bodies, including the Tuskegee syphilis experiments and the cloning of Henrietta Lacks' cells.
When the Mayoral Advisory Commission submitted its report to the city recommending that this statue be removed, they stated: “The Sims monument has come to represent a legacy of oppressive and abusive practices on bodies that were seen as subjugated, subordinate, and exploitable in service to his fame. To confront this legacy in accordance with the principle of Historical understanding, the Commission feels that the City must take significant action to reframe the narrative presented in the monument.”
The East Harlem community, led by East Harlem Preservation, rejected the statue’s presence in their neighborhood due to its white supremacist origins. Likewise, the South Brooklyn community rejects the planned relocation of the statue to the Green-Wood Cemetery, in our neighborhood. We welcome the City’s action to remove the statue, but its actions should end there. The City should not put additional money, energy, and resources into other form of honoring J. Marion Sims. “We do not accept moving the statue from one location to another, and leaving the East Harlem platform intact with engraved markers. We recommended that the city BURY the statue at his grave site if they move it there,” stated Marina Ortiz of East Harlem Preservation.
As residents of this neighborhood who visit and value Green-Wood’s public spaces, we are are totally opposed to the placement of the J. Marion Sims statue there. Dozens of us have written with our concerns to Green-Wood, without effect. The cemetery management claims the statue is educational -- but statues are designed to honor the people they represent, and this statue is a monument to Sims’ racist legacy.
“Moving the statue to Greenwood Cemetery and reinstalling it without a pedestal does not fundamentally change the fact that the sculpture enshrines Sims in bronze and depicts him heroically. Graveside statues have always been intended to honor the memory of the deceased. Though Greenwood has committed to adding contextual panels, the first view that casual visitors to Greenwood cemetery will encounter is the celebratory image of a large-scale statue placed next to a gravesite,” stated Dr. Mya Dosch, a South Brooklyn resident and an art historian who specializes in public monuments. As has been shown with the removal of Confederate monuments throughout the South, there are alternative ways for Green-Wood to educate visitors on Sims’ racist legacy, if this is the goal.
We are neighbors living in Sunset Park, Kensington, South Slope, Windsor Terrace, and beyond who refuse to house a memorial to white supremacy in our neighborhood. We are working to end anti-black racism and xenophobia in South Brooklyn, and this is an unwelcome step backwards. We demand that the J. Marion Sims statue not be relocated to Green-Wood Cemetery. There is no space for honoring white supremacy in our neighborhood.
Signed,Concerned Neighbors of the Green-Wood Cemetery