Christopher Columbus Statues Fall in Other Cities, Remain Intact in Ohio

Walker Evans Walker Evans Christopher Columbus Statues Fall in Other Cities, Remain Intact in OhioA statue of Christopher Columbus stands outside of Columbus City Hall — Photo by Walker Evans.
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The darkest parts of America’s history are often glossed over in grade school — from the slave ownership of George Washington to the white terrorist massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma — and few historical icons stand taller in that regard than Christopher Columbus.

Our city’s namesake was best known for “Discovering America” (he never actually set foot outside of the Caribbean islands, and there were already other people here first), but anyone that has ever read beyond the third grade introduction knows him as a tyrannical colonizer that brutalized and enslaved indigenous people while also condoning murder and rape.

In the wake of the George Floyd protests, many Americans have begun to rethink the enshrinement of troublesome historical figures, most of which are tied to the Confederate Army. Statues of these pro-slavery generals are coming down in many cities while Confederate flags are being banned from display.

Some protestors have turned their attention to Christopher Columbus, beheading or toppling statues in Saint Paul, Richmond and Boston over the past week. Meanwhile, here in Columbus, our three statues honoring this historical figure remain standing.

Statue #1: Christopher Columbus at The Ohio Statehouse

The oldest monument is currently on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse, dating back to 1892. The statue was commission by local resident Monsignor Joseph Jessing to commemorate the 400 year anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage across the Atlantic. The statue only arrived at the Statehouse in 1932 after first being housed at the Pontifical College Josephinum on the city’s East Side. The current base for the statue debuted relatively recently in 1992 for the 500 year anniversary of the voyage.

The 128-year old Christopher Columbus statue (and 28 year old base) located outside of the Ohio Statehouse — Photo by Walker Evans.

Seeing as the Ohio Statehouse was completed in 1861 and spent its first 71 years with no statue of Christopher Columbus, the idea of its removal from public display does not seem too far fetched. To date, that hasn’t happened.

“Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) had not received any requests or comments about the Christopher Columbus Discovery Monument at the Ohio Statehouse,” stated Communications Manager Mike Rupert.

Statue #2: Christopher Columbus at Columbus City Hall

Update June 18, 2020: Mayor Ginther Directs Christopher Columbus Statue to be Removed from City Hall

The second monument to Christopher Columbus can be found on the south side of Columbus City Hall, facing West Broad Street. Although the City of Columbus was established over two centuries ago in the year 1812, our city government was able to operate statue-less for 143 years until a dedication ceremony in 1955 welcomed this bronze gift from the citizens of Genoa, Italy.

The 65-year old Christopher Columbus statue located outside of Columbus City Hall — Photo by Walker Evans.

Residents have often debated the merits of keeping the statue on display, with over 100 locals gathering in 2017 to protest for its removal. Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther pushed back on its removal then, and reiterated a similar sentiment via email, yesterday.

“I would urge people to remember that the protests that unfolded in our community over the last few weeks were not about statues, but about persistent racism in our country,” stated Ginther. “There are many perspectives on the Christopher Columbus statue, but let’s not be distracted from the real need to address the racial divide in our community and across the country.”

A new Change.org petition to have this statue removed was launched this week by Christopher C. Austin III, and has nearly 1,200 signatures as of the time of publishing.

“The city of Columbus already took the step of not observing Columbus Day back in 2018, in order for more resources to be available for Veteran’s Day,” stated Austin. “This has already been seen as an area of conflict. The city needs to do the right thing and take the next step to remove the statues that have always been a memory of brutality for so many.”

Robin Davis, Senior Director of Media Relations for Mayor Ginther, noted that as of this afternoon, six calls have been logged to 311 about the statue — four against it and two in support of it.

Statue #3: Christopher Columbus at Columbus State Community College

Update June 16, 2020: Columbus State Community College Removing Christopher Columbus Statue

Centered in the Downtown campus of Columbus State Community College (CSCC), students and faculty pass by a large monument to Christopher Columbus every day. While CSCC was founded in 1963, the statue actually dates back four more years to 1959. Originally commissioned for a park in Barrington, Illinois, this iteration of Christopher Columbus spent several decades living quietly in a small Chicago suburb.

After years of neglect, the statue was relocated to Columbus and restored in 1988, just one year after CSCC changed to its current name (it was founded as the Columbus Area Technician’s School in 1963 and renamed the Columbus Technical Institute in 1965).

The 61-year old Christopher Columbus statue located at CSCC — Photo by Walker Evans.

Of the three statues, the CSCC installment could be the first to see some form of change.

“We are in active discussion about swiftly addressing the troubling history and legacy represented by the Christopher Columbus statue on our campus,” stated CSCC Communications Coordinator David Wayne. “Work already underway has been accelerated and we commit to being transparent about our plan of action.”

Do Statues of Christopher Columbus Have a Place in the City’s Future?

In 2008, a life-size replica of the Santa Maria that formerly sat in the Scioto River was removed to make way for the renovated Scioto Mile greenspace. The reasons given for the boat’s removal had to do with changes in water levels and a lack of finances for upkeep. If the ship was still in place, we’d likely be having similar community conversations about its meaning. Meanwhile, the missing vessel has not prevented residents from enjoying the Scioto Mile park for the past decade.

The removal of statues of these types of figures should not be viewed as an erasure of history. Proper locations, such as the grounds of the Ohio History Center, could provide a resting place for such monuments where they can be studied property on school field trips and by history-seeking visitors.

The City of Columbus has a long and storied history, and the question we should be asking ourselves is whether or not these statues have played a significant or long-lasting role worthy of permanent preservation in highly prominent locations.

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