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'Problematic' NYC Theodore Roosevelt statue bound for Medora

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Roosevelt statue

Critics of the statue outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York City depicting Theodore Roosevelt on horseback with a Native American man and a Black man standing alongside say it symbolizes colonial expansion and racial discrimination. The statue is heading to Medora.

A controversial statue depicting Theodore Roosevelt on horseback with a Native American man and a Black man at his sides is headed to Medora for the library planned in honor of the 26th president.

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and the city of New York have entered into an agreement for the long-term loan of the statue, which has stood outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York City since 1940. The New York State Roosevelt Memorial's Board of Trustees commissioned the statue, which was designed by James Earle Fraser in 1929.

The library board in a statement called the statue "problematic in its composition" and without "consent and context" for people passing by at its current location.

The pact allows the library to relocate the statue for storage while the board considers a display "that would enable it to serve as an important tool to study the nation’s past."

The panel will establish an advisory council comprising "representatives of the Indigenous Tribal and Black communities, historians, scholars, and artists to guide the recontextualization of the statue."

“Museums are supposed to do hard things,” Library CEO Ed O'Keefe said in a statement. “It is said that ‘those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,’ and our job is to forthrightly examine history to understand the present and make a better future.”

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Ed O'Keefe is the CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library board

Theodore 'Ted' Roosevelt

Theodore 'Ted' Roosevelt is the great-great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt who has deep ties to the North Dakota Badlands and the state's western lore. Roosevelt, who is no stranger to the state, was in Bismarck to talk about the proposed presidential library in Medora.

The statue has been the subject of years of criticism that it symbolizes colonial subjugation and racial discrimination. Objections grew more forceful after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked a racial reckoning and a wave of protests across the U.S.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to remove the statue in 2020, calling it “problematic,” which drew an angry response from President Donald Trump, who tweeted, “Ridiculous, don’t do it!”

Roosevelt's great-great-grandson, Theodore Roosevelt V, called the statue "problematic in its hierarchical depiction of its subjects" and said it "should be removed from New York State’s official memorial to Theodore Roosevelt."

"Rather than burying a troubling work of art, we ought to learn from it," he said. "It is fitting that the statue is being relocated to a place where its composition can be recontextualized to facilitate difficult, complex, and inclusive discussions."

The museum and the city will remove the statue. The relocation by long-term loan and any plans to display the statue would need final approval of the city's Public Design Commission.

Museum President Ellen Futter said the removal work will began later this fall and will take several months.

The 2019 Legislature approved a $50 million operations endowment for the library, which is expected to hold its grand opening in 2026. Private fundraising as of June had brought in about $1.5 million for construction.

The library is planned to be built on U.S. Forest Service land near the Medora Musical's Burning Hills Amphitheatre. 

Roosevelt hunted and ranched in the Medora-area Badlands as a young man in the 1880s before becoming president in 1901.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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