As you may know, we have sponsored numerous public discussions about the presumed accomplishments of Sims, a white southern doctor who experimented on enslaved Black women without anesthesia or informed consent—both in the context of historic preservation as well as honoring and upholding the civil and the reproductive rights of women of color.
East Harlem Preservation began its campaign in 2007 in solidarity with similar efforts by activist Viola Plummer—a member of the December 12th Movement and co-founder of the Harriet Tubman-Fannie Lou Hamer Women’s Collective—who had begun calling attention to Sim’s cruel experiments after the publication of Harriet A. Washington’s book “Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present” in 2006. We immediately endorsed Ms. Plummer’s campaign because we agreed that the statue was an affront to the predominantly Black and Latino community of East Harlem.
In February 2011, East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito wrote a letter asking the Parks Department to remove the statue, which she described as “a constant reminder of the cruelty endured by women of color in our country’s history.”
“I am disturbed that a monument honoring an individual who tortured enslaved women and young Irish immigrants for the advancement of medicine is located in a neighborhood where people of color are the majority,” Mark-Viverito added. “Because this statue is as a constant reminder of the inhumane manner in which his medical practices were perfected, I request that a reevaluation of its current location be conducted. It is my belief that a monument that aligns with the ideals of a community in which the majority is people of color would be more appropriate for our neighborhood.”
The Parks Department has refused to honor these requests, claiming that “the city does not remove ‘art’ for content”—a ridiculous argument given the fact that such a precedent was met when the statue was removed from Bryant Park in 1934 to make way for “thematic changes.” Years later, the Parks Department offered to install a plaque beneath the Sims statue that would “honor” three women who were subjected to his unnecessarily barbaric experiments—Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy.
In June 2016, Community Board 11 rejected the plaque and called for the removal of the statue—a decision which East Harlem Preservation wholeheartedly supported.
In September 2016, we joined with artists from the Laundromat Project’s Harlem cohort to organize a speak-out in solidarity with the reproductive rights of women of color. The event was held in front of the Sims statue, where community residents and local artists honored their ancestors and condemned the continued assault on Black and Latina female bodies.
In February 2017, we held a panel discussion at Manhattan Neighborhood Network with “Medical Apartheid” author Harriet Washington; Lynn Roberts, PhD, Assistant Professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy; and Diane Collier, Chair of East Harlem’s Community Board 11.
We maintain that the statue’s presence does a huge disservice to the neighborhood’s majority Black and Puerto Rican residents—two groups that have specifically been subjected to medical experiments without permission or regard for their wellbeing.
Dr. J. Marion Sims is not our hero. There are many African American and Puerto Rican women and men who have made great medical and scientific contributions that have benefitted our community—Daniel Hale Williams, Charles Drew, Ramón Emeterio Betances, Helen Rodriguez-Trias, or Rebecca Lee Crumpler, to name a few. These are the s/heroes we would prefer our children learn about as they stroll in Central Park, confident in the understanding that Black Lives Matter.
We hope that you will join East Harlem Preservation and over 500 people who have endorsed our campaign to urge the Parks Department to remove the Sims statue. Now, more than ever, as the nation undergoes the erosion of our fundamental rights, it is imperative that New York City stand firm in its commitment to honor and defend its citizens with this symbolic gesture.
- Letter In Support of the Removal of the Dr. J. Marion Sims Statue – Dr. Andrés Torres, March 17, 2017
- Letter to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation Regarding the Removal of the Dr. J. Marion Sims Statue – Iris Morales, March 15, 2017
- Letter to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation Regarding the Removal of the Dr. J. Marion Sims Statue – Raymond Ramirez, March 15, 2017
- “Speak Out in Solidarity For the Reproductive Rights of Women of Color” to Air on MNN 12/21, 12/24, and 12/27 – EHP, December 20, 2016
- East Harlem Activists Still Pushing To Remove Controversial Statue – The Uptowner, October 10, 2016
- NOT OUR STATUE: Speak Out in Solidarity For the Reproductive Rights of Women of Color (Video) – EHP, September 25, 2016
- Community Renews Push to Remove Statue of Man Who Experimented on Slaves – DNAinfo, September 24, 2016
- Letter to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation Regarding the Removal of the Dr. J. Marion Sims Statue from East Harlem – Community Board 11, September 14, 2016
- Letter to the NYC Public Design Commission Regarding the Denial of the Proposed Addition of a Historical Plaque to the Dr. J. Marion Sims Statue – Community Board 11, September 14, 2016
- Remembering Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey: The Mothers of Modern Gynecology – NPR, February 21, 2016
- Dr. J. Marion Sims Medical Experiments on Enslaved Women and Children – Ramp Your Voice, August 2015
- Polémica en East Harlem por estatua de ginecólogo – El Diario-La Prensa, 7 de mayo de 2014
- Council Speaker Urged to Remove Statue of Doctor Who Experimented on Slaves – DNAinfo, May 7, 2014
- Sculpture of Paradox: Doctor as Hero and Villain – New York Times, March 2, 2014
- Time to ‘Remember the Ladies’ — in Central Park – Huffington Post, March 18, 2013
- Doctor James Marion Frankenstein Sims – Too Much Black, March 4, 2013
- Councilwoman Wants to Remove Statue of Doctor Who Operated on Slaves – DNAinfo, February 15, 2013
- Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito: NYC Statue An Ugly Reminder Of Slavery – New York Daily News, February 15, 2013
- Medical Apartheid Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present – Democracy Now, February 13, 2013
- Letter Requesting the Removal of Dr. Marion Sims Statue – Mark-Viverito, February 11, 2011
- Like Former Mayors, a Statue Fades From View – The New York Times, September 5, 2011
- American Mengele – Huffington Post, September 16, 2011
- The Portrayal of J. Marion Sims’ Controversial Surgical Legacy – Jurology, June 2011
- Melissa Writes to Parks Department Regarding Offensive Statue Outside Central Park- February 14, 2011
- Harlem Doesn’t Like Statue Of Slave-Operating Vagina Doc – Gothamist, February 13, 2011
- Slave doc knocked off pedestal – New York Post, February 13, 2011
- World Famous Gynecologist Once Operated on Slaves – Black Scholars for Black America – December 10, 2010
- Slaves, Experiments & Dr. Marion Sims’s Statue: Should It Stay or Go? – New American Media, December 8, 2010
- Unequal treatment – New York Times, February 18, 2007
- The medical ethics of Dr J Marion Sims – Journal of Medical Ethics – June 2006
- Scholars Argue Over Legacy of Surgeon Who Was Lionized, Then Vilified – The New York Times, October 28, 2003
- Killing the Black Body, Dorothy Roberts, 1997
- Medical Apartheid (Harriet Washington, 2007)
- Statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims – NYC Parks Department
- James Marion Sims – Wikipedia
- Unethical human experimentation in the United States – Wikipedia
- J. Marion Sims Letters
- The Story of My Life – James Marion Sims, 1898
- Reply to Dr. J. Marion Sims’ Pamphlet, “The Woman’s Hospital in 1874” – Edmund Randolph Peaslee, 1877