Post Editors: Statue or No, Teddy Roosevelt's Complex Legacy is Still with UsBreaking News
tags: Theodore Roosevelt, memorials, statues, monuments, public history
By last week, the time had finally come — in fact, it was probably well past due — to remove the bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt that had stood for 80 years at the entrance of New York’s American Museum of Natural History, on Central Park West. It was made objectionable, as an unmistakably colonial paean to white supremacy, by the accompanying likenesses of two subservient figures on foot, an African man and a Native American man, that flanked Roosevelt’s heroic figure, mounted in horseback.
Roosevelt, who did not want statues erected in tribute to him, remains among this country’s most revered presidents, and among its most consequential. He was also flawed. A more felicitous site for that statue, to contextualize it along with the 26th president’s breathtakingly rich array of achievements and shortcomings, is among the exhibits of a great museum or library, rather than as a street-facing figurehead.
And that’s where the monument is headed — to the new $250 million Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library, in the Badlands of North Dakota. The library, designed by a prominent architect, is scheduled to open to the public in 2026.
Roosevelt’s stature should not be confused with that of other figures whose likenesses in bronze and stone have been removed, or pulled down, in recent years. Most of them were heroes of the Confederacy — traitors to the United States who dedicated their lives to a war intended first and foremost to preserve slavery.
By contrast, Roosevelt’s legacy was infinitely more layered, hardly without sin but admirable on many levels. His list of firsts is impressive. Any American who has visited a national park or forest has been touched by one of his signature accomplishments. He also held racist views — genocidal, in the case of Native Americans — that were typical for White Americans of his time.