Christopher Columbus stays — with an asterisk.
The findings of Mayor de Blasio’s monuments commission were set in stone Thursday — with the group deciding after months of deliberations not to completely tear down any statues around the city in a monumentally anticlimactic ruling.
Columbus will remain atop his perch high above the circle named for him on the Upper West Side — but the city will put up new historical markers in and around Columbus Circle to “continue the public discourse” — and will commission, at city expense, a new monument honoring indigenous people.
The statues and monuments commission is opting to not completely tear down any statues around the city.
(Theodore Parisienne/for New York Daily News)
“Thousands of New Yorkers got involved in this process, and there’s been an important conversation going on across the city,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Reckoning with our collective histories is a complicated undertaking with no easy solution. Our approach will focus on adding detail and nuance to — instead of removing entirely — the representations of these histories.”
“And we’ll be taking a hard look at who has been left out and seeing where we can add new work to ensure our public spaces reflect the diversity and values of our great city,” he continued.
The Christopher Columbus statue at Columbus Circle will also be getting some informative markers to “continue public discourse” that will honor the indigenous people.
(Luiz C. Ribeiro/For New York Daily News )
Columbus was the highest-profile person on the chopping block after Hizzoner promised to rid the city of “symbols of hate” in the wake of the fall of Confederate monuments in the south. He soon found himself mired in controversy surrounding characters like Columbus, viewed by some Italian-Americans as a hero and by some indigenous people as a bringer of genocide and colonialism.
While the explorer got a reprieve, the city will relocate a statue of J. Marion Sims — who invented gynecological surgery techniques while experimenting on enslaved black women who could not consent to surgery — from its spot in Central Park to Greenwood Cemetery, where Sims is buried.
“Our approach will focus on adding detail and nuance to — instead of removing entirely — the representations of these histories,” de Blasio said.
In addition, the city will add plaques to the relocated statue and the existing pedestal in Central Park explaining the history of the statue, and will partner with a community organization “to provide in-depth public dialogues” about non-consensual medical experiments, particularly on women of color.
The city will also “commission new work with public input that reflects issues raised by Sims legacy,” it said.
Two other controversial monuments will remain in their current places — including a marker commemorating a parade thrown in the “Canyon of Heroes” for Henri Philippe Petain, who would later become a hated Nazi collaborator as the head of Vichy France.
But the commission said the name “Canyon of Heroes” should go — since some of the people feted with ticker tape parades there were more villain than hero by current standards. De Blasio’s office didn’t commit to act on that recommendation — or on one to create a new Indigenous Peoples Day in the city.
The city said it again would look into adding signs with historical information about the people for whom parades were held. The Downtown Alliance and the Museum of the City of New York will also research biographical information about those honored that can be accessed through an app and a website.
Former President — and New York police commissioner — Theodore Roosevelt will continue to keep watch outside the American Museum of Natural History – despite criticisms that the Native Americans beside him are depicted as caricatures. Yet again, the city promised to partner with the museum to add context and educational programs — despite about half the commission members saying the statue should be relocated.
The Columbus decision was welcome news to Joe Guagliardo, the president of the National Council of Columbia Associations.
“As far as we’re concerned, this is a victory,” he told the News. “I don’t care about markers. My membership doesn’t care about markers.”
John Calvelli, a vice chair of the National Italian American Foundation and a member of the commission, said the group considered the statue of Columbus in the context of the time in which it was erected — just a year after 11 Italian-Americans were lynched. It was paid for by immigrants who collected “literally nickels and dimes” as the Ku Klux Klan fought against Columbus Day because the explorer was a Catholic, he noted.
“We don’t want the history of the Italian-American community and the Catholic community erased either,” Calvelli said.
But Betty Lyons, head of the American Indian law Alliance and an Onondaga citizen, said the addition of the plaques is “not enough.”
“We are disappointed but not surprised. This is our reality, the same old act of erasure, the same old narrative, the same history being perpetrated by leaving the statue of Columbus up. My kids are still going to look up at these statues every day they pass them,” she said.
De Blasio also drew criticism for Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn), who said it was “immoral” to keep the markers for Petain and fellow World War II French politician Pierre Laval.
“We have a moral obligation to educate the public, and especially young people, by removing markers that commemorate individuals who willingly participated in the systematic murder of innocent men, women and children,” he said.
The committee was tasked with a 90-day review, and it held three formal in-person meetings, one public hearing in each of the five boroughs and conducted “countless phone conferences,” de Blasio spokesman Eric Phillips said. The report was written by its members and city staff.
Asked for a cost of the commission, Phillips said the members weren’t paid for their time or travel. With the completion of the report, the group has now been disbanded.
Source: Ny Daily News