Friday, July 19

Beyond Sims: the Committee to Empower Voices for Healing and Equity

Since 2010, East Harlem Preservation has sponsored numerous public protests, forums, and petition drives calling for the removal of the statue honoring J. Marion Sims—a white southern doctor who experimented on enslaved Black women without anesthesia or informed consent.

Our campaign was greatly inspired by earlier efforts by activist Viola Plummer—who had begun calling attention to Sims’ cruel experiments soon 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.

East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito joined the campaign in February 2011 and 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.”

The NYC Parks Department refused to honor our request, claiming that “the city does not remove ‘art’ for content”—a ridiculous argument given the fact that such a precedent was met when the Sims statue was removed from Bryant Park in 1934 to make way for “thematic changes.”

In early 2016, the Park Department offered to install a plaque beneath the Sims statue that would “honor” three of the 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 we wholeheartedly supported.

In September 2016, East Harlem Preservation joined with artists from the Laundromat Project 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 speakers and artists honored their ancestors and condemned the continued assault on Black and Latina female bodies.

In February 2017, we held a panel discussion on the Sims statue with Medical Apartheid author Harriet Washington; Dr. Lynn Roberts, reproductive justice scholar activist and Assistant Professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy; and Diane Collier, Chair of East Harlem’s Community Board 11. The program was broadcast over Manhattan Neighborhood Network.

The debate surrounding the removal of symbols of oppression and hate is certainly not new, although the issue did gain national attention when activist Bree Newsome removed the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse in response to the murder of nine black parishioners in Charleston by self-avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof on June 17, 2015.

Community activists and legislators across the country stepped up their efforts even further after August 12, 2017 when a white neo-Nazi protesting the removal of a monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring others.

While addressing the tragedy, Columbia, South Carolina Mayor Steve Benjamin also singled out J. Marion Sims, including the statue here in New York City. “I believe there are some statues on our state capitol I find wholly offensive,” he said “The most offensive statue wasn’t a soldier, it’s J. Marion Sims, who’s considered the father of modern gynecology who tortured slave women and children for years as he developed his treatments for gynecology. It should come down at some point.”

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to the growing controversy—which now included protests against monuments to Christopher Columbus—by announcing the formation of an Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers. Unfortunately, members have thus far held no public meetings and will make no formal decision until after the general election next month.

On August 17, 2017, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito wrote a letter to Mayor de Blasio asking that the statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims be included in the 90-day review that the City is conducting of all symbols of hate on city property.

On August 19, 2017, we attended a very moving action in front of the Sims statue organized by members of Black Youth Project 100 challenging the presence of these symbols of oppression.

On August 21, 2017 East Harlem Council woman Melissa Mark Viverito was joined by other elected officials to reaffirm her call for the removal of the statue.

Speak Out in Solidarity 4 Reproductive Rights of Women of Color

On August 25, 2017, unknown person(s) took matters into their own hands—spray-painting the word “racist” on the back of the statue and splattering red paint on the eyes, presumably to symbolize the torture Sims inflicted on his victims.

On September 27, 2017, Dimiti Kadiev, a traveling artist affiliated with the Catholic Worker movement, painted a portrait of abolitionist Harriet Tubman in front of the Sims statue and urged Mayor de Blasio to replace it with a monument honoring African American women.

Most recently, East Harlem Preservation joined forces with Council members Inez Barron, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and other legislators, to form the “Coalition to Remove the Dr. Sims Statue: Reclaiming Reproductive Rights of Women of Color”.

East Harlem Preservation maintains that the statue’s presence does a huge disservice to the neighborhood’s majority Black and Latino residents – groups that have historically been subjected to medical experiments without permission or regard for their wellbeing. There are many African American and Puerto Rican women and men who have made great medical and scientific contributions that have helped our community—Dra. Helen Rodriguez-Trias and Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, to name a few.

We hope that you will join over 20,000 people who have endorsed the campaign 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

Submit a statement to the Advisory Commission

Testify at an upcoming public hearing in your borough

Follow the Coalition to Remove the Dr. Sims Statue on Facebook
Sign NARAL’s petition for the removal of all J. Marion Sims monuments

Visit our website to learn more about our campaign

Watch Our Videos
Take Our Online Survey
Email a letter of support (Word or PDF format)

Call Mayor Bill de Blasio at (212) NEW-YORK or 311

Email: Mayor Bill de Blasio

Tweet: @NYCMayor @BilldeBlasio[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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