Hero or monster? Doctor calls for removal of J. Marion Sims statue from SC State House

Hero or monster? Doctor calls for removal of J. Marion Sims statue from SC State House

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - There are renewed calls for the removal of Civil War-era monuments from the South Carolina State House grounds.

One doctor is joining Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin's call to take down the J. Marion Sims monument. Sims is widely recognized as the "Father of Gynecology." He is lauded for helping discover fixes to child birth complications.

Medical historians at the College of Charleston say he grew up in South Carolina, before moving to Alabama to practice medical experiments on about one dozen young, enslaved, African American women.

But after protesters in New York vandalized a similar statue there over the weekend, many South Carolinians hope to expose Sims' "controversial" experiments.

One North Charleston family physician, Dr. Thaddeus John Bell, has even refused an award bearing J. Marion Sims' name; he wants his statue to come down from the State House grounds.

The story behind this statue is a painful reminder of how far modern medical practices have come, Dr. Bell says.

"The medical profession, supposed to be one of the noblest professions known to man, but still we had people who were doing those kinds of things to other people, to other humans," Bell said.

Dr. Jacob Stere-Williams says there were about 30 unsuccessful surgeries recorded, performed on slaves without anesthesia.

"It was a widespread belief in the antebellum period, that African Americans and Caucasians experienced pain differently. Sims did similar experiments for example, on white middle and upper-class women where he used ether and chloroform," Stere-Williams says. "So, Sims is someone who, from a strictly medical perspective, might be championed as helping to lead to some advancements in science and medicine. Yet, I think as from a historian's
perspective in public discourse, what a statue of him represents is not just a remembrance of the past but a forgetting of the past, a forgetting of the other people - the other side to this story."

"To people of his era, he was definitely a hero. But in today's society, he was definitely a monster," Bell says.

Bell says Sims put health disparities on African American women. This point of view has led to vandalism of Sims statue elsewhere. Over the weekend in New York, where Sims eventually practiced medicine, someone spray-painted the word "racist" on the Sims Central Park statue.

But not all agree Sims should be removed from the South Carolina State House. The Sons of Confederate Veterans' South Carolina Commander told WIS that, speaking only as a private citizen, he believes all historical monuments should remain, regardless of their significance.

Leland Summers says that if one monument goes, all must- under the Heritage Act. Summers further commented that if a monument were to offend him, he would "turn his back."

"Well, ultimately, every community is going to have to decide for itself what it wants to do with its own monuments. But they should remember that monuments aren't history," says College of  Charleston Associate Professor of History Dr. Adam Domby. "They are a celebration usually in the case of these sorts of monuments. And they have to ask themselves what do they want to celebrate?"

There are other public buildings around the state named for Sims, too. WIS reached out to the J. Marion Sims Foundation for a comment but has not been able to get in touch with their president.

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