On Tuesday, Democratic Senate and Assembly leaders in Sacramento announced that the statue of Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella in the State Capitol Rotunda is to be removed.
The statue, “‘Columbus’ Last Appeal to Queen Isabella,” was gifted to California by gold rush banker Darius Ogden Mills in 1883. It sat almost entirely uninterrupted in the Capitol rotunda since then.
However, the George Floyd protests have put pressure on local and state politicians to remove statues and monuments of those who have been accused of suppressing minorities in the past history of the United States.
Many Confederate monuments in the Southern U.S. have been removed since May due to the statues honoring those who had slaves or fought to preserve slavery. Other civic leaders with statues who has suppressed minorities, such as a statue of former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, have also been removed either by the city or by protesters. Overseas, statues of known slave traders and supporters of slavery have also been removed.
Historical statue removals have also hit California, with statues of California settler John Sutter being removed on Monday.
History about Columbus has been re-written to say, “Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who stumbled upon the Americas and whose journeys marked the beginning of centuries of transatlantic colonization,” as History.com did.
In recent weeks a new movement to remove statues of Christopher Columbus over his history of genocide and enslavement of indigenous people. Many cities and state capitols have removed or are planning to remove such statues.
Senator Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), and Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) named Columbus’ genocidal past as the reason for removal of the Columbus and Queen Isabella statue on Tuesday in a joint statement.
“Christopher Columbus is a deeply polarizing historical figure given the deadly impact his arrival in this hemisphere had on indigenous populations,” said the Lawmakers. “The continued presence of this statue in California’s Capitol, where it has been since 1883, is completely out of place today. It will be removed.”
This has not been the first time the statue has been under fire. In the 1960’s and 70’s, Native American groups attempted to remove the statue from the rotunda, citing Columbus’ past. Groups in the 90’s and 2000’s also tried to remove it. But Tuesday’s announcement has generally sealed the fate of the statue, albeit with many still wanting the statue to remain and no current date of removal.
“It’s not about that,” explained Paul Gattuso, a Los Angeles resident who has fought against Columbus Day changes. “It’s about him taking a huge risk and leading other to come to America. For many Italian-Americans he’s a hero.”
“I’m not denying that he did those things to native people, but what he did was help bring and encourage downtrodden Europeans to the New World for religious freedom that later helped build up this country.”
While 60% of Americans generally agree with celebrating Columbus Day, recent events and a movement to look deeper into historical figures pasts have pushed the tide against figures such as Columbus in recent months, with the removal of the Columbus statue reflecting changes in attitude.
“We won’t forget that he helped spur people coming to America,” said historian Diana Greene. “But we also can’t celebrate someone who did terrible things like that. That’s where we are now in the U.S. The Columbus statue in Sacramento being removed is following that.”
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