A controversial statue depicting Theodore Roosevelt on horseback with a Native American man and a Black man at his side 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.”
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.
North Dakota’s 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 plan is to build the library 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.