Columbus To Remove Christopher Columbus Statue At City Hall

Jun 18, 2020

A statue of Christopher Columbus at City Hall will be taken down, Mayor Andrew Ginther announced Thursday.

Ginther said the statue will be "removed as soon as possible and placed in storage." The statue arrived as a gift in 1955 from Genoa, Italy, the explorer's birthplace and Columbus' sister city.

In its place, Ginther is asking the Columbus Art Commission to spearhead an effort to replace the statue with art that better represents the people of Columbus.

“For many people in our community, the statue represents patriarchy, oppression and divisiveness. That does not represent our great city, and we will no longer live in the shadow of our ugly past,” Ginther said in an emailed statement. “Now is the right time to replace this statue with artwork that demonstrates our enduring fight to end racism and celebrate the themes of diversity and inclusion.”

The City Hall statue, long the target of local protests, is one of three Christopher Columbus statues in the city. Earlier this week, Columbus State Community College announced it would remove a statue of the Italian explorer that stands on its downtown campus. A third remains in front of the Ohio Statehouse. 

The Columbus statue at City Hall and Columbus State were both vandalized Tuesday night, following the school's announcement. Similar statues have been targeted by protesters across the country amid demonstrations over police violence and racism.

Shelly Corbin, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who lives in Grove City, says the statue's removal is the beginning of changes that should be made in Columbus. 

"It normalizes the acts of slavery and the deaths of millions of people from either murder or disease," Corbin says of the statue. "When historical acts of violence like this are normalized, it perpetuates those acts of violence in modern day-to-day experiences." 

On Tuesday, City Council president pro tem Elizabeth Brown voiced her support for removing the statues.

"Christopher Columbus led the brutalizing and murder of indigenous people in this hemisphere. It's (past) time for his statue at City Hall to go! While we're at it, let's redesign our seal, which depicts his ships that moved men here to commit racial genocide," Brown tweeted.

In a statement, Columbus City Council said it's focused on eradicating systemic racism, but "we also hear the raised voices in the streets regarding this monument."

"Removal and replacement of the statue will not feed families or end racism. We understand this statue is also a symbol of oppression and enslavement," the statement reads. "We support it moving and will work with residents to ensure that new public art at this site and memorials all around our city celebrate the best of us, our cultures and our dreams for the city we are working to build together."

Sostine Codispoti, the president of the local chapter of the Sons of Italy, disagrees with the decision to remove the statue.

"I have no idea where you'd put it," Codispoti says. "It's just a sad day. It's a sad happening. It does represent the Italian heritage and it's been there for a long time. How can you erase history?"

Ginther is asking the Columbus Arts Commission to help determine what exactly will happen to the removed statue, and if there are opportunities to display the statue elsewhere with context about why it was removed and what role it played in the city.

“By replacing the statue, we are removing one more barrier to meaningful and lasting change to end systemic racism,” Ginther wrote. “Its removal will allow us to remain focused on critical police reforms and increasing equity in housing, health outcomes, education and employment.”

Thursday's announcement marked a reversal in Ginther's stance. In 2017, amid nationwide protests over Confederate monuments, Ginther defended the placement of Christopher Columbus at City Hall.

"There are many perspectives on the Christopher Columbus statue, but let's not be distracted from the need to address the real problem: the racial divide in our community and across the country," Ginther said in a statement.

Now, Ginther is calling for all public art in the city to be reviewed for diversity and inclusion. That includes a review of the city seal and flag, both of which include depictions of Columbus' ship.

Columbus, Ohio, is the largest city in the country to be named after the Italian explorer, although some community members have advocated for the city's name to be changed entirely.

In 2018, the city stopped recognizing Columbus Day as a holiday, offering the day off on Veterans Day instead.

This story will be updated with more information.