Dr. Marion Sims Statue

Viola Plummer at #NotOurStatue: Speak-out in front of J. Marion Sims statue!Please join East Harlem Preservation in asking the New York City Parks Department to remove the statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims from its current location on Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street.

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 2010 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.

Speak Out in Solidarity 4 Reproductive Rights of Women of ColorIn 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 over 800 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 residents with this simple gesture.

What You Can Do

Take Our Online Survey

If you agree, kindly email us a letter of support in Word or PDF format.

Please also call NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver at (212) 360-1305 or (212) NEW-YORK or 311, email: mitchell.silver@parks.nyc.gov, or Tweet: @mitchell_silver or @NYCparks.

News Articles

Letters of Support

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