Bob Dylan sang in 1964 that the times they are a-changin’, and almost 60 years later they still are. The march of time never stops and neither does the change. As hard as some try to turn back the clock back to the good ole days, time grabs us and hurls us forward, changing as we go. People are afraid of that change, flighting it at every single turn. You will see people scream that Woke people are ruining everything and why can’t we just leave everything the way it used to be. And I get it, it’s scary to have to be told that the way we think and see things have changed. But is all this changed really needed? Are those who fight have any valid points? Do we really need a change in everything?
In the last few years, an ongoing debate on how we look at the past has sparked deep options from many on issues from books to status. And it is at this debate that we go back to New York City to dip our toes into the hot mess that is the Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt.
The bronze statue was created by artist James Earle Fraser in 1939 and sits at the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History, New York City. It shows Roosevelt on horseback with two men walking on each side of him, one a Native American and the other a man from Africa. Now I know that what it seems to be is a statue of a white man towering over minorities, but what it really is, is not cut and dry. Roosevelt was known for some forward-thinking towards other non-white cultures. An early champion of civil rights for both groups, It can be seen as Roosevelt leading the groups towards the promised land of justice that is America. But of course, then you have to ask yourself, why is he on a horse and not that other two men.
Another way to look at the statue is to not look at it in the most straightforward way. The men can stand for not a race but for continents. It was a type of symbolism that was common at the time. But yet again, we go back to Roosevelt on the horse. Are white men the apex of these worlds? Fraser once said that: “The two figures at the side are guides symbolizing the continents of Africa and America, and if you choose may stand for Roosevelt’s friendliness to all races.” Which he was, with a friendship with noted African American Booker T. Washington.
The talk and anger over the statue have been more a recent feeling as not much talk in the public was given on its meaning for much of the 20th century. Starting in 2017 talks of removing the statue started and in 2021, a unanimous vote was taken to finally remove it. The removal was supported by many groups within and outside the city of New York but also by members of Roosevelt’s family. Theodore Roosevelt IV said, “ The world does not need statues, relics of another age, that reflect neither the values of the person they intend to honor nor the values of equality and justice.
So, for now, you can still visit the statue where it stands. I went to last see it in September of 2020, which is when these pictures were taken. As for my own personal views on it, it should be taken down from where it stands but that doesn’t mean to hide it from the public. It is a work of art and placing it with the context of not only the time it was made and where we are today is important. Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most important America Presidents ever and his impact on business and nature is huge. However, this statute is a disservice to his legacy. What should go in its place? I’m not sure, maybe something closer to the natural world, seeing as it is the museum of natural history.
Time moves on and how we see things also changes and as much as many would like to fight it and are unknowing scared. It changes and, damn your feelings. I understand what the meaning of the statue is, if created today maybe all three men are on equal footing. Maybe that would have been too much to do when first created. I strongly believe that Roosevelt would have wanted the change had he been around to see it today, thru our modern eyes. That’s what great people do, they are able to change with the times. This debate will not end, nor should we stop talking about what needs to change and why. Not everyone will accept it but let’s be honest, the change does not lay with us but with our children. And change will move forward no matter how tightly you hold onto the past.