Protesters are mounting a widening movement against statues to historical figures across the country. What began with protests of confederate statues after the Charlottesville protests has expanded to include Supreme Court justices, presidents, founders, and now explorer Christopher Columbus. In Detroit, protesters gathered around the Columbus statue to demand removal as a symbol of “white supremacy.” In Baltimore, the Columbus statue was vandalized.
Demonstrators in Detroit told media that there were no confederate statues so they chose an image that they views as “tied to a white supremacy mind-set.”
Organizers said they were unaware of any Confederate monuments in the city, so were focusing on memorials to other historical figures tied to a white supremacy mind-set.
The protesters are members of the Detroit chapter of BYP100, formerly known as the Black Youth Project 100.
The Columbus statue was erected by the Italian-American community of Detroit in 1910.
Protester Antonio Cosme is quoted as saying “He’s a central central narrative to white nationalism. He’s one of the key figures in this whole Western identity.” Yet, Columbus is also the symbol of humanity’s unbounded desire for exploration and the courage it took to transverse an unknown ocean in a wooden ship to discover new lands. That courage was magnified by the fact that many thought Columbus and his crew would simply fall off the end of the Earth.
The monument in Baltimore was vandalized, a criminal act posted on posted to YouTube on Monday by a user named “Popular Resistance.” It shows a man taking a sledgehammer to the base of the monument near Herring Run Park near a sign reading: “The future is racial and economic justice.”
The video feature the voice of a man named Ty calling Christopher Columbus a “genocidal terrorist.”
As I have discussed in the media, this ever-widening movement to destroy historical monuments is occurring without any real debate or discussion. History is really neat. Historical figures are often deeply flawed individuals who lived in violent and oppressive times. We learn from history not by destroying its images but placing them into context. These are markers that represent the evolution of our society — not just our triumphs but failures.
There is no denying Columbus’ historical significance. Millersville University professor Thomas Tirado wrote in 2000 that “It is nearly impossible to over-exaggerate the historical significance of Christopher Columbus. The ultimate expression of the Columbian Legacy has been nothing less than global in its impact.”
He is also a great pride for Italian-Americans (including my family). I remember when an old-time Italian alderman was asked in the 70s by a reporter why Chicago was still celebrating Columbus Day when it appeared that Vikings may have come to the shores before Columbus. Vito Marzullo seemed stumped and then smiled and said “When Columbus discovered American, it stayed discovered.”
What do you think?