An Alabama group is calling for the statue of a physician who performed medical experiments on enslaved black women in the antebellum South to be removed from capitol grounds.
Joined by retiring State Sen. Selma-Democrat Hank Sanders, the Save OurSelves (SOS) Movement for Justice and Democracy held a press conference outside of the state capitol in Montgomery on Wednesday, where they called for the removal of a statue of the “father of modern gynecology, Dr. J. Marion Sims.
“The reason this memorial must be removed is because Dr. J. Marion Sims operated on a number of enslaved Black women without their consent and without anesthesia of any sort,” said Sanders at the press conference. “Alabama cannot have a statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, a man who committed repeated atrocities against Black women in Alabama, on public grounds.”
Sims is best known for his invention of the vaginal speculum and pioneering a surgical technique to cure the “vesico-vaginal fistula,” which was a debilitating condition women often suffered in the 1800’s following complications in childbirth. He perfected the surgery by performing repeated operations on the enslaved women in Alabama during the 1840s, without using anesthesia.
From 1845 to 1849, Sims performed experimental surgeries on slaves he kept in a “little hospital of eight beds, for taking care of negro patients,” in Montgomery, Ala., he explained in his autobiography.
Many argue Sims did not have consent for his experiments, but he claims he did.
“I made this proposition to the owners of the negroes: If you will give me Anarcha and Betsey for experiment, I agree to perform no experiment or operation on either of them to endanger their lives, and will not charge a cent for keeping them, but you must pay their taxes and clothe them. I will keep them at my own expense,” Sims said of his arrangements in his autobiography.
Sims defenders agree — he was in line with the times.
According to History.com, “Sims’s defenders say the Southern-born slaveholder was simply a man of his time for whom the end justified the means—and that enslaved women with fistulas were likely to have wanted the treatment badly enough that they would have agreed to take part in his experiments. But history hasn’t recorded their voices, and consent from their owners, who had a strong financial interest in their recovery, was the only legal requirement of the time.”
“Dr. Sims is widely known as the father of gynecology because, in large part, of these horrible medical experiments he conducted on enslaved Black women in Alabama,” said Tuskegee-mayor Johnny Ford, who was also at the event. “Like the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments on Black men that took place in Alabama in the 20th Century, these atrocious actions that took place in Alabama in the 19th Century against Black women should, at the very least, result in an apology and the removal of this statue. “
Ford continued, “Memorials to Dr. Sims have been removed in other states once Sims’ atrocities were brought to public and officials’ attentions. That has sadly not been the case in Alabama. That must change.”
Last month, a similar statue of Sims was removed from Central Park in New York City.
The SOS is also asking that the charges be dropped against Jon Broadway, who has been charged with Criminal Tampering in Montgomery County. Broadway, a local activist, was arrested last month on Confederate Memorial Day after performing a skit in front of the statue.
“The charges against Jon Broadway must be dismissed because he has done nothing wrong. In fact, he has done something right by calling attention to the memorial of a man who openly abused and tortured enslaved Black women,” said Attorney Faya Rose Toure. “From the facts I know, Mr. Broadway simply helped perform a skit about Dr. Sims’ actions and a little ketchup may have gotten on the statue during a performance given to draw attention to the torture and abuse that powerless Black women suffered at the hands of Sims.”