Taking down the statue

This attack on Fraser’s work comes in the midst of a nation-wide movement to tear down statues which desecrate the history of blacks and Native Americans.


To: The President of the American Museum of Natural History:

By now, I think a lot of people have heard about the decision to remove Teddy Roosevelt statue from its place in front of the American Museum of Natural History.  That statue has been there since 1940.   James Earle Fraser was the sculptor who designed it, and he has a lot of brilliant work to his credit.  Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t just an important American president; in addition, he was a leader in conservation and an important person in the fight for the environment.   Yanking down the statue without considering other solutions is just wrong.

The real problem with the statue is the juxtaposition of a white man on a horse riding above a native American and a black American.  Even Teddy Roosevelt V, the ex-president’s relative, is against that.  But I think there may be an artistic way to save the statue and make it what it should have been.

Is it possible to separate them into three statues?  Roosevelt could remain on his horse in front of the museum, where he is.  The other two could be given places of honor inside the museum, as they should.  Their statues are handsome and heroic.  The only thing wrong is displaying them next to Teddy on his horse.  Teddy looks as if he has conquered them, even if that wasn’t the intent.

If somehow Teddy could be removed from his horse and march with the other two men, then the statue would have honored all three of them.

James Earle Fraser has done a lot of well-known work.  He designed the buffalo that we see on our five-cent nickel.    The End of the Trail, his best-known sculpture, has come to symbolize the genocide of Native American peoples.  It depicts a Native American man hunched on his horse, exhausted from fighting.  It says something moving about the way Native Americans have been treated, and it certainly doesn’t celebrate that treatment.

This attack on Fraser’s work comes in the midst of a nation-wide movement to tear down statues which desecrate the history of blacks and Native Americans.  That movement is entirely understandable; we don’t need statues of Confederate generals when we still haven’t honored black Americans and Native Americans the way we should.  Fraser’s depiction of Roosevelt and the other two men is poorly done, only because it signals a superiority of whites over blacks and natives, even if Fraser didn’t mean to say that.  

There is actually beauty and power in all three figures.  Just as there is beauty and power in the societies who make up America.  If — somehow – we could make the three statues equal, the group would not just celebrate Teddy Roosevelt and his contributions to nature and conservation, but celebrate our country as it should be: a place of equality for all.


If you liked this article, please donate $5 to keep NationofChange online through November.