Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

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Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby ObsessoMom » Thu Sep 07, 2017 12:18 pm UTC

This topic has already been discussed quite a bit in other threads, mostly in the wake of the Charlottesville protests and counter-protests.

However, the news stories just keep coming, and those other threads are devoted to more general topics (Trump, race, et al.), so I thought it might be useful to have a thread devoted to the recent trend toward the removal of statues.

Here are two stories from the past few days:

1.) On Tuesday, Sept. 5, the Dallas City Council voted 13-1 for the "immediate" removal of Robert E. Lee from Lee Park in the Dallas-area community of Oak Lawn. The removal began early Wednesday morning, but there were some technical difficulties that slowed the process long enough for someone to file, and receive, a temporary restraining order on behalf of the Texas Chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, claiming that their First Amendment rights will be irreparably damaged if the statue is removed. The complaint said, "The city's planned suppression of the monuments' political speech is a first step in a totalitarian move to determine authorized forms of political communication and to punish unauthorized political speech." Apparently there will be a hearing on this today. Stay tuned. Here's a Dallas newspaper's version account of yesterday's developments.

2.) This morning, in a rather meta twist, there's the removal of a headline about the removal of statues.

The prominent scientific journal Nature published an essay on September 4, regarding last week's vandalism of a statue in New York's Central Park honoring gynecologist (it's a UK journal, so they spell it "gynaecologist") J. Marion Sims. His scientific breakthroughs were based on the unethical use of human subjects--namely, pregnant slaves. Basically, Sims paid their owners for permission to conduct experiments on them.

The original headline was "Removing Statues of Historical Figures Risks Whitewashing History."

As of September 7, the essay appears under this dramatically revised title and subtitle: "Science Must Acknowledge Its Past Mistakes and Crimes: Injustice in the name of research should not be forgotten--nor should those injured by scientists." The essay is now also prefaced by this note:

Editor's note: The original version of this article was offensive and poorly worded. It did not accurately convey our intended message and it suggested that Nature is defending statues of scientists who have done grave injustice to minorities and other people. We have corrected the headline, standfirst and a line in the text to make clear we do not support keeping those memorials; our position is that any such memorials that are allowed to stand should be accompanied by context that makes the injustice clear and acknowledges the victims.

We apologise for the original article and are taking steps to ensure that we do not make similar mistakes in the future. We realise that many people disagree with the article more fundamentally; we will be publishing some of the strong criticisms that we have received and welcome further responses.

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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby Angua » Thu Sep 07, 2017 7:09 pm UTC

Not to Godwin the thread, but if the medical community can decide to change the names of things named by Nazis, then surely they can acknowledge that you shouldn't have statues of people who experimented on slaves/other minorities.
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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby CorruptUser » Thu Sep 07, 2017 7:32 pm UTC

Angua wrote:Not to Godwin the thread, but if the medical community can decide to change the names of things named by Nazis, then surely they can acknowledge that you shouldn't have statues of people who experimented on slaves/other minorities.


But isn't that, like, ALL medical researchers prior to the 20th century, and then some?

Assuming coma patients, prisoners, mentally ill, and severe physical or mental disabilities count for that purpose.

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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby The Great Hippo » Thu Sep 07, 2017 7:47 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:
Angua wrote:Not to Godwin the thread, but if the medical community can decide to change the names of things named by Nazis, then surely they can acknowledge that you shouldn't have statues of people who experimented on slaves/other minorities.


But isn't that, like, ALL medical researchers prior to the 20th century, and then some?

Assuming coma patients, prisoners, mentally ill, and severe physical or mental disabilities count for that purpose.
I mean, if you literally can't find a historical medical researcher who didn't experiment on people without their consent, maybe the takeaway is that you shouldn't build statues of any historical medical researchers?

I highly doubt there aren't any ethical medical researchers throughout history, but if they're all unethical, then okay -- let's acknowledge that by not building statues of them.

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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby Angua » Thu Sep 07, 2017 11:55 pm UTC

Yeah, sure. Eponymous names are tricky anyway.
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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby idonno » Fri Sep 08, 2017 3:07 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:Assuming coma patients, prisoners, mentally ill, and severe physical or mental disabilities count for that purpose.

You forgot about orphans.

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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby ObsessoMom » Fri Sep 08, 2017 4:43 am UTC

In J. Marion Sims' case, it's not just the lack of freely-given, informed patient consent for his experimental surgeries--it's also the repeated surgeries without anesthesia, which detractors say was due to Sims' belief that Blacks were subhuman and not as sensitive to pain as Whites.

[Edited to add: In his autobiography, though, he wrote of his patient Lucy, an 18-year-old slave left with a fistula two inches in diameter two months after giving birth, “That was before the days of anaesthetics, and the poor girl, on her knees, bore the operations with great heroism and bravery. I had about a dozen doctors there to witness the series of experiments that I expected to perform.” So I'm not sure that its fair to hold the lack of anesthesia against him, and his praise for her "great heroism and bravery" indicates recognition of the substantial pain involved on Lucy's part, even if the presence of "about a dozen" doctors does not indicate much respect for her privacy.]

BTW, his enslaved research subjects were not all women. Apparently Sims developed his techniques for the first successful gall bladder surgery on male slaves. (I don't know how many unsuccessful attempts he needed before he was successful.)

I was surprised by how many depictions of Sims there actually are. In addition to the 1894 statue in New York's Central Park, there is also a bronze bust in J. Marion Sims' honor in South Carolina, the state where he was born (see Mayor of Columbia says statue of J. Marion Sims should come down, and in Alabama, where he lived for 18 years and conducted his experiments on slaves (see
Alabama Capitol statue honors doctor who experimented on slaves). I can't find the date of the Alabama statue, or any info on who paid for it. The South Carolina bust was donated by the Women's Auxiliary of the South Carolina Medical Association in 1929, which I note was around the same time that the United Daughters of the Confederacy were sponsoring many statues of prominent Confederates.

There was also a far more recent painting of Sims, commissioned in 1982 for $20,000, and finally removed in 2005 from a space for faculty discussions at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. According to this 2006 Washington Post article:

a painting of Sims, one of his slave patients and four other "Medical Giants of Alabama" has been removed from above the fireplace at the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Center for Advanced Medical Studies because of questions of race, gender and medical ethics.

The painting, by Marshall Bouldin III, was commissioned for $20,000 in 1982 and paid for by donors. It hung in a space intended to host faculty discussion and debate, and the painting was intended to be provocative.

But complaints from guests and an ongoing scholarly controversy surrounding Sims's medical experimentation on slave women in the 1840s led a committee of doctors late last year [2005] to recommend its removal.


Further snippets from the article and a JPEG of the painting spoilered for length:

Spoiler:
[...]Anarcha Wescott, Sims's patient in the painting, endured 30 surgeries as Sims worked to perfect the technique. She was among about a dozen slaves on whom Sims operated repeatedly without anesthetic, which was just being developed but wasn't widely used at the time.

Some scholars have questioned whether the slaves gave or were capable of giving informed consent to the surgery, despite Sims's claim they eagerly sought his cures.

Questions raised among historians and considered by the committee were numerous: Was Sims sincerely concerned about the plight of the women or with his own glory as a medical innovator? Was he interested in relieving their suffering or in repairing them so they could return to working and producing children for their masters?

Then there are the questions raised by the painting itself. The slave Wescott lies on a table, partially disrobed, surrounded by the celebrated white men. Does the painting objectify Wescott? Is it an invasion of her privacy to hang such a painting in a room where cocktail party guests circulate?


Here's a JPEG of the painting:

Image

Hmmm. Is this the same painting referenced in the Washington Post article? I don't see "Sims, one of his slave patients, and four other 'Giants of Medicine.'" I see only two other white men.

To me, the painting looks like an attempt to acknowledge the problematic nature of Sims' research. Anarcha Wescott's pose in the painting doesn't seem particularly disrespectful of her privacy. I think it recognizes the fact that she was objectified, without necessarily objectifying her in turn. (But then again, I am Roman Catholic and am accustomed to seeing far more lurid depictions that are intended to honor female martyrs--St. Agatha, etc.--so I may be desensitized in this regard.)

According to this caption, the painting now seems to be in the Pearson Museum of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.


According to this 1894 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Central Park statue was originally erected in Bryant Park, and was paid for by his wealthy patients and colleagues in the U.S. and Europe:

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 1894
THE STATUE OF DR. J. MARION SIMS IN BRYANT PARK.

For the first time in the history of the United States, a public statue has been erected to the memory of a member of the medical profession.

On Oct. 20, 1894, in one of the most beautiful parks in New York City, in a spot of ground selected and set apart for statues of literary and scientific men considered worthy of such honor, there was unveiled a statue in bronze of a man well known in scientific circles, as well in Europe as in America.

The inscription upon the pedestal tells in concise language almost the story of the man whose statue it supports, and why such distinguished honor has been conferred upon a physician.

On it is written:

"J. Marion Sims, M.D., LL.D. Born in South Carolina, 1813. Died in New York City, 1883. Surgeon and Philanthropist, Founder of the Woman's Hospital in the State of New York. His brilliant achievements carried the fame of American surgery throughout the civilized world. In recognition of his services in the cause of science and mankind, he received the highest honors in the gift of his countrymen, and decorations from the Governments of France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Portugal." And on the reverse,

"Presented to the City of New York, by his professional friends, loving patients and many admirers throughout the world."

[...]

In 1875, he was elected President of the American Medical Association.


The New York Times ran a 2003 article titled "Scholars Argue Over Legacy of Surgeon Who Was Lionized, Then Vilified" (link). Some snippets:

Snippets spoilered for length:

Spoiler:
One of Sims's modern legacies is the almost total absence of vesico-vaginal fistulas in the developed world, because of advances in childbirth and the operation he pioneered.

From this lofty perch, Sims had a long way to fall. And fall he did, beginning in the mid-1970's, as Americans dealt with the volatile issues of racial and sexual equality. Historians, many of them sympathetic to the civil rights and women's movements, saw an urgent need to revise Sims's history.

One of the first scholars to weigh in was Dr. Graham J. Barker-Benfield, then a historian at Trinity College in England [Note: a correction at the end of the article says that he was actually at the University of California at Los Angeles at that time], who argued that Sims had used slave women as guinea pigs to advance his career.

The women, Dr. Barker-Benfield wrote in 1974, had ''endured years of almost unimaginable agonies'' undergoing repeated surgery. Rather than being willing participants, the women had been powerless to refuse.

Writing in 1985, Diana E. Axelsen, a philosopher at Spelman College, described Sims's patients as ''victims of medical experimentation.'' Wendy Brinker, a South Carolina filmmaker, nicknamed Sims ''Father Butcher'' and asked why the state's monument to him still stood.

Underlying these pronouncements was the belief that Sims's early biographers had been guilty of ''presentism,'' evaluating past events based on their own values at the time. Living in an era that uncritically celebrated white male doctors, the historians contended, these writers had viewed Sims far too favorably.

More recently, a few scholars have been trying to revise this revisionist history. ''To deify or vilify Sims is not the answer,'' said Dr. Deborah Kuhn McGregor, a historian at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Dr. McGregor uses Sims's story in her book ''Sexual Surgery and the Origins of Gynecology'' to discuss the complex ways that race and sex influence medical practice.

One of Sims's strongest defenders these days would have to be Dr. L. Lewis Wall, a Washington University surgeon who believes that the scholars who pilloried Sims were guilty of the same presentism they had identified in others' work.

Dr. Wall has a special reason for coming to Sims's defense. He routinely travels to Africa to repair vesico-vaginal fistulas. Contending that the rest of the world has lost interest in the victims of this disorder, who may still number in the millions, he has founded the Worldwide Fund for Mothers Injured in Childbirth (www.wfmic.org).

''These kinds of pathologies no longer exist here,'' Dr. Wall noted. But women with fistulas are ''absolutely miserable and absolutely outcasts, reeking of urine 24 hours a day,'' he said, noting that he can restore both the health and dignity of such women.


Then again, that's a 2003 article. All the lawsuits involving problems with transvaginal mesh (used to repair pelvic organ prolapses) came more recently, and make me wonder how much progress has really been made in women's pelvic anatomy and surgery.

A wee digression: The grandson of Dr. J. Marion Sims, whose name was Marion Sims Wyeth, was the architect who designed Mar-a-Lago (yes, THAT Mar-a-Lago) for Marjorie Merriweather Post in the 1920s. Huh.

Oh, and in other news:

Federal judge allows Dallas to move forward with Robert E. Lee statue removal

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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby Chen » Fri Sep 08, 2017 11:49 am UTC

A statue of Sims seems far more akin to a statue of Washington or Jefferson, as opposed to say a statue of Lee. It doesn't seem Sims was any more racist than the standard person at the time. And particularly it seems he was still doing what he did with the intention of helping all people. He stated he had the consent of the slaves he worked on, but clearly by our current standards that isn't true consent (being a slave has some pretty built in coercion based on not wanting to piss off your master lest you face the consequences). Based on the wikipedia article (so grain of salt here) it's not even that clear how unethical these experiments were. He was actually fixing a medical problem on all the people he worked on, it was just via experimental procedure (since there were no known procedures to fix the problem). Would definitely put him in the same category as other slaveholders like Washington or Jefferson.

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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby ObsessoMom » Fri Sep 08, 2017 6:25 pm UTC

Democrats offer a bill to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol

The Washington Post wrote:Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.) introduced Senate and House versions of the Confederate Monument Removal Act, which would mandate the removal of all statues of those who voluntarily served the Confederate States of America from the National Statuary Hall Collection within 120 days.

There are currently 12 Confederate leaders, including Gen. Robert E. Lee and President Jefferson Davis, in the National Statuary Hall Collection.

“The National Statuary Hall Collection is intended to honor American patriots who served, sacrificed or made tremendous contributions to our nation,” Booker said. “Those who committed treason against the United States of America and led our nation into its most painful and bloody war are not patriots and should not be afforded such a rare honor in this sacred space."

[...]

The week after the Charleston shooting, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) brought a measure to the floor calling for the removal of state flags featuring the “Southern Cross” of the Confederacy from areas displaying flags in the Capitol. That measure was referred to the committee that sets House rules and was defeated in a vote almost completely along party lines.

This bill may have a hard time getting support from enough lawmakers to pass also. Republicans control the House and the Senate, and 84 percent of Republicans in that Economist/YouGov survey said that Confederate monuments represent pride rather than supremacy.

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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby orthogon » Mon Sep 11, 2017 4:07 pm UTC

ObsessoMom wrote:
just being developed but wasn't widely used at the time.

Some scholars have questioned whether the slaves gave or were capable of giving informed consent to the surgery, despite Sims's claim they eagerly sought his cures.

Questions raised among historians and considered by the committee were numerous: Was Sims sincerely concerned about the plight of the women or with his own glory as a medical innovator? Was he interested in relieving their suffering or in repairing them so they could return to working and producing children for their masters?

Who knows why anyone puts in the effort and sacrifice required to make significant progress in a field? No doubt the pursuit of personal glory figures in the story of many great innovators. I suppose the point here is that his motives may partially mitigate his methods, and so cross-examining those motives is necessary to establish where the balance lies. Newton might have been a bastard, but his experimental subjects themselves were inanimate lumps of matter.
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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby qvxb » Fri Sep 29, 2017 2:21 pm UTC

Statues of Confederate figures were erected many years ago. Today most of the former Dixiecrats are now Republicans and I feel sure would be happy to see the following replacements.

Jefferson Davis replaced  by Abraham Lincoln or John C. Fremont. Fremont was the first Republican presidential candidate. His campaign slogan was Free Soil, Free Men, and Fremont.

Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson replaced by Ulysses S. Grant, George Meade, or George A. Custer (for irony).

The replacement statues should have sound systems that tell the history of those portrayed and will occasionally play The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby idonno » Mon Oct 02, 2017 4:21 am UTC

qvxb wrote:Ulysses S. Grant

I'm not sure how setting up a monument to one of the genocide presidents is going to improve anything.

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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby sardia » Mon Oct 02, 2017 5:56 am UTC

idonno wrote:
qvxb wrote:Ulysses S. Grant

I'm not sure how setting up a monument to one of the genocide presidents is going to improve anything.

To put racists down? If anything, they should set up general Sherman statues right in the heart of every confederate city.

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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby idonno » Mon Oct 02, 2017 3:10 pm UTC

sardia wrote:If anything, they should set up general Sherman statues right in the heart of every confederate city.

You realize he wasn't even opposed to slavery. On top of that, by modern standards, he was a pretty bad war criminal. The more you look at military leaders from the Civil war, the more you realize just how screwed up things really were. If we want to set up new monuments, maybe we should look somewhere else in our history.

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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby ObsessoMom » Tue Oct 24, 2017 4:48 pm UTC

As monuments to the Confederacy are removed from public squares, new ones are quietly being erected

The Los Angeles Times wrote:Annette Pernell, a council member in this Texas town, was aghast when she heard about plans to construct a Confederate memorial that would be visible from the interstate and loom over Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

But there was nothing she or anybody else could do about it. The land was private.

And so the Confederate Memorial of the Wind slowly went up on a grassy half-acre. A total of 13 concrete columns — one for each Confederate state — rise from a circular concrete pedestal. Eventually it will be surrounded by as many as 40 poles topped with Civil War battle flags.

“It’s as if we’ve gone backwards,” said Pernell, who is 54 and black. “I didn’t think, at this age, I would see what I’m seeing now. A Confederate memorial is a slap in the face of all Americans, not just African Americans.”

[...]

In South Carolina last month, a granite monument dedicated to the “immortal spirit of the Confederate cause” was unveiled on a spot where Civil War enthusiasts gather each year to reenact the Battle of Aiken. In Alabama in August, a gray stone memorial was dedicated in a private Crenshaw County park to unknown Confederate soldiers. In Georgia last year, a black marble obelisk was erected on public land in the mountain town of Dahlonega in memory of the county’s nearly 1,200 Confederate veterans.

In all, more than 30 monuments and symbols to the Confederacy have been dedicated or rededicated since 2000, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. A historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, W. Fitzhugh Brundage, conducted an inventory of his own state and found that 20 monuments had gone up there over that time — the most since the early 20th century.

The people funding the monuments — often the great-great grandchildren of Confederate soldiers — say they simply want to remember their loved ones and ensure their legacies live on. More controversially, many also promote a revisionist history in which slavery was not a major cause of the war.

While most historians agree that the root cause of the Civil War was slavery, a significant number of Americans, particularly in the South, have been taught the war was about states’ rights in general. Six years ago, a Pew Research Center survey found that 48% of Americans said states’ rights were the reason for the war, while 38% cited slavery.

The debate is particularly charged in Texas, where the State Board of Education in 2010 adopted new academic standards listing slavery as third among the causes of the war, after sectionalism and states’ rights.


[Edited to say: For anyone still unclear on that last point, I invite consideration of the Cornerstone Speech of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens.]

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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby Pfhorrest » Tue Oct 24, 2017 5:18 pm UTC

Speaking of Confederate imagery being an offense not only to black Americans but all Americans, it recently struck me that with a lot of the same people who are pro-Confederate also being pro-Nazi and lately pro-Russian too, it's like these people are somehow rallying around all of America's most iconic enemies. I really don't get how people who grew up in a country where those forces are the stereotypical villains of all our movies and stories and go "yeah, I wanna be a bad guy like them!"
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Re: Statue Removal--the Saga Continues

Postby jewish_scientist » Tue Oct 24, 2017 11:22 pm UTC

Chen wrote:Would definitely put him [Sims] in the same category as other slaveholders like Washington or Jefferson.

I would not. Washington and Jefferson did great things, and just so happened to also own slaves. If slavery was illegal at the time, then all of their positive characteristics would remain intact. On the other hand, Sims's accomplishments were only possible because these slaves where there to be operate on.

Regarding the statues of Sims, I think that whether or not they should stay up depends on historical context. If he did operation that to the best of his knowledge would cure the patient, no other cures existed, and the patient 'consented', then I think the statue should remain. If he operated on free women, then there is no problem regarding consent; if he operated on slaves, he did everything in his power to respect their rights to consent. Unless he somehow had the ability to end slavery so that he can get true consent, then we cannot blame him for the legal* state his patients were in.



*By 'legal', I mean referring to what the laws of the land were. I am not saying that those laws were fair.


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