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Teddy Roosevelt statue deserves to stay in place

A statue of Theodore Roosevelt on horseback guided

A statue of Theodore Roosevelt on horseback guided by a Native American man, left, and an African man, right, sits in front of the American Museum of Natural History on June 22, 2020 in New York. Credit: AP/Kathy Willens

The Politically Correct mob misses the point by calling for removal of Theodore Roosevelt’s statue at the American Museum of Natural History.  This statue debuted in 1940, just as World War II began breaking out. The designer’s intent was to honor those who led the United States to victory in an earlier conflict, the Spanish-American War.

As leader of the legendary Rough Riders, Teddy Roosevelt is depicted atop a gallant steed.  But the statue also features noble and powerful figures of an African American and Native American supporting their leader, because both fighting groups helped the U.S. victory over Spanish forces in Cuba. 

The 2nd Cavalry Brigade, known as "Roosevelt's Rough Riders," was an odd mixture of volunteers composed of frontiersmen, gunfighters, outlaws, renegade soldiers, trappers and Native Americans. They would receive more publicity than any other Army unit in that war, and they are best remembered for their conduct during the Battle of San Juan Hill

Most American children will remember the story of how Roosevelt led his band of Rough Riders charging up San Juan Hill and routing the Spanish army to win a decisive battle wresting Cuba from Spanish control. Upon returning to the United States, the Rough Riders legend helped launch Roosevelt to become vice president and then, after the assassination of William McKinley, president.

The real history of that war, however, turns out to be a little different. In fact, Roosevelt and his Rough Riders made it to the top of San Juan Hill only after the bulk of fighting was over. Truth be told, they made it there only after regiments of African American soldiers cleared out most of the real Spanish opposition. In fact, it was these Black soldiers who saved TR’s Rough Riders from annihilation on San Juan Hill and other battles in Cuba.

The contributions of these “Buffalo Soldiers,” the name given them by Native Americans for their dark skin and curly hair, is documented in Jerome Tuccille’s book “The Roughest Riders: The untold story of Black soldiers in the Spanish-American War.” The book tells the true story about thousands of African Americans who fought and died for U.S. interests abroad, while not being allowed the freedoms of democracy back home.

While the legend of TR and his Rough Riders will not soon disappear from U.S. junior high school history books, many Americans know there are other sides to the story. Tuccille’s book credits those who have long deserved it. Giving credit to those long dead soldiers of yesteryear, African Americans and Native Americans, was the designer’s intent in crafting the iconic statue at the American Museum of Natural History. This statue was not meant to glorify “America’s systemic racism.”

Reader Robert F. Salant lives in Franklin Square.

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