Silence on statue sparks concern: Locals worry cemetery may go rogue after refusing meeting about controversial monument

Monumental discourse: Cemetery leaders setting meeting with neighbors about controversial statue
Associated Press / Bebeto Matthews

Green-Wood Cemetery leaders may be backing out of their promise to consult the community before installing a statue of a polarizing doctor in the burial ground, according to critics of the sculpture, who said a graveyard bigwig recently shot down their request for a sitdown about the fate of the monument to gynecologist J. Marion Sims.

“My impression is that they’re not interested in community input for this,” said Kate Axelrod, the founder of opposition group Stop Sims Statue.

Green-Wood honchos last April pledged to keep locals informed as they decided on a final resting place for the statue, months after some residents organized in opposition to cemetery brass’ January offer to make the burial ground a new home for the likeness of the 19th-century doctor.

The monument to Sims — whom many claim should not be memorialized because he performed experiments on unwilling black female slaves — previously stood in Central Park, until city officials booted it following their review of controversial public monuments.

But Axelrod said Green-Wood refused her group’s recent request to set up a meeting about the statue’s future, citing a Jan. 10 e-mail in which an employee told her group to sit tight until leaders of the private graveyard have more news about their plan to put the sculpture back on public display.

“When Green-Wood is ready for further movement on the issue, we will reach out to you, to Community Board 7, and to our elected official to make plans to meet,” the e-mail from John Connolly read.

Another graveyard spokeswoman, however, assured this newspaper that locals will be among the first to receive any updates about the statue of the so-called “father of modern gynecology” — whose physical remains are among those of the cemetery’s more than 570,000 permanent residents. And until a plan is hatched, the monument will remain locked away, the spokeswoman said.

“The statue of J. Marion Sims remains in storage,” said Colleen Roche. “Green-Wood continues to research and consider options for its placement and is committed to working closely with the community and the city.”

Green-Wood’s head previously promised that if he placed the Sims statue on the property, it would be alongside a plaque explaining the doctor’s complicated history.

But that reassurance did little to soothe many critics, one of whom recently doubled down on his stance that no amount of context justifies continued display of the monument.

“The man committed violence against black women for a living,” Ethan Cohen told this newspaper on Thursday. “He does not deserve a shred of commemoration.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.