Over the past few years, the country has been reckoning with its history of subjugation, genocide, and enslavement. Universities like Georgetown and Yale have renamed buildings of problematic icons, while cities around the nation have taken down tributes to heroes with racist pasts. Recently, New York City joined in by removing a statue that honored a doctor who conducted horrific experiments on enslaved Black women.
Known as “the father of gynecology,” James Marion Sims was a 19th century doctor who “perfected a technique to repair fistulas, which are holes between the vagina and the bladder or rectum, by repeatedly conducting painful experimental surgeries on enslaved Black women without using anesthesia,” NPR reports.
Before being taken down this week, Sims’ statue was situated in Central Park, across from the New York Academy of Medicine, where it had stood in East Harlem for 124 years.
In January, Mayor Bill de Blasio pulled together a committee to review all of New York City’s controversial monuments, and the city decided to relocate Sims’ memorial to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn where he is buried. The statue’s new location will also include a plaque that honors the “legacy of non-consensual medical experimentation on women of color broadly and Black women specifically that Sims has come to symbolize.”
A small crowd gathered to watch Sims’ statue come down, many cheering. Harlem resident, Mercy Wellington, said she was happy the doctor’s image would no longer be honored in such a public way.
“I feel that my ancestors can rest,” Wellington told the New York Daily News. “Each day I walked past that statue and I saw him up there, I felt personally disrespected.”
“It’s a historical moment for me, and it’s an emotional moment,” she added. “I just feel the right thing is being done.”