Teddy Roosevelt's Great-Grandson Supports Removing Statue From NYC Museum

President Theodore Roosevelt's great-grandson, Theodore Roosevelt IV, supports removing the equestrian statue from the American Museum of Natural History because it doesn't properly depict his ancestor's legacy.

On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to move the controversial statue at the request of the American Museum of Natural History. The museum said it will remain the official memorial to the former president but noted many people found Roosevelt's depiction and the statue's placement of Native American and African figures racist.

Roosevelt's great-grandson agreed that the composition of the statue was problematic and said in a statement that it did "not reflect Theodore Roosevelt's legacy."

"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," he said. "It is time to move the statue and move forward."

Newsweek reached out to the museum for comment but did not hear back before publication.

The statue was commissioned in 1925 and unveiled to the public in 1940 as a memorial to Roosevelt, who served as New York governor before becoming president. It was intended to honor the former president as a "devoted naturalist and author of works on natural history," the museum said.

teddy roosevelt statue museum removal
The Theodore Roosevelt Equestrian Statue, which sits on New York City public parkland in front of the American Museum of Natural History. Roosevelt's great-grandson said he supports removing the statue because it doesn't depict the former president's legacy properly. Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty

Roosevelt established 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks and 18 national monuments, according to the Department of the Interior. His decision to set aside Florida's Pelican Island as a federal bird reservation led to more protected areas and eventually the creation of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The youngest president in American history, he also ensured that the Panama Canal was constructed and won the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the Russo-Japanese War. Upon his invitation, Booker T. Washington became the first African-American guest to dine at the White House, but he's also been criticized for believing that white people were racially superior and not doing enough to advance African American rights.

Gary Gerstle, a professor of American history at the University of Cambridge, told Boston NPR station WBUR that Roosevelt believed America was a place of opportunity for all men and women but also saw it as a place for the "racially superior" descendants of the Europeans. Those racist views made him a "man of his time," Gerstle said, and need to be understood in that context and people's own perspectives.

"But I would not want his reform program to be lost sight of, because it sets the terms for much of the politics of the 20th century," Gerstle said. He noted Roosevelt's ideas that wealth can't accumulate without regulation and that government has a role to play in regulating the economy and evening the playing field for the rich and the poor.

During a briefing on Monday, de Blasio called Roosevelt one of the "complex figures in America's history," in that he did "extraordinarily progressive" and also "deeply troubling" things. However, he separated Roosevelt from the statue and said it has representations that "clearly don't represent today's values."

"The statue clearly presents a white man as superior to people of color, and that's just not acceptable in this day and age and should have never been acceptable," de Blasio said. He added that he supports the museum's call to remove the statue.

In 2017, de Blasio established a commission to assess controversial monuments in the city, including the Roosevelt one. The decision was to keep the statue in place but provide more information about it.

The Roosevelt family has a long association with the museum, and in honor of his role as a leading conservationist, the museum's Hall of Biodiversity will be named after him.