MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama should remove a statue from its Capitol grounds honoring a 19th century doctor who operated on slaves without anesthesia as he sought new ways to treat childbirth complications, a group led by a state lawmaker said Wednesday.
The statue, erected in 1939, lauds Dr. J. Marion Sims as the "father of modern gynecology." However, Sims' legacy has been tarnished because he developed his technique through operations on enslaved black women in Alabama, without anesthesia.
New York City officials last month relocated a statue of Sims from Central Park to the Brooklyn cemetery where Sims is buried.
State Sen. Hank Sanders, a Democrat from Selma, and other members of the group Save Ourselves Movement for Justice and Democracy held a press conference calling for the removal of the statue from the Capitol grounds.
"This statue needs to be removed, just as it was in New York," Sanders said. "Sims lived here in Montgomery, and it was in Montgomery that he did these operations on enslaved women without any anesthesia. They said white women couldn't stand the pain, but they decided black women could."
A local activist was arrested last month on misdemeanor criminal trespassing charges after performing a skit in which ketchup, used as a prop to symbolize blood, was smeared on the statue pedestal, according to a police affidavit included in court records. The skit was performed on Confederate Memorial Day, which remains a state holiday in Alabama, shortly before another group held a ceremony on the grounds to honor Confederate veterans.
"The other side of the history needs to be told. They were just telling the other side of the history," Sanders said.
Sims' statue sits on the state Capitol grounds, along with an 88-foot monument honoring Confederate veterans, a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and a bronze star that marks the spot where Davis took the oath of office. But Sanders said the memorial to Sims, which sits beneath a large oak tree, has drawn less attention
Alabama lawmakers in 2017 approved legislation prohibiting the removal or alteration of longstanding monuments and markers unless approved by a state committee. The law was approved as some Southern cities began moving to take down Confederate monuments.
A spokesman for Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who has praised the law in her election ads, said any request to take down the statue would go through that process.
"Governor Ivey believes in the process and supports the committee and their decisions," her press office said in an email.
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