Generations of American school kids have been taught that Christopher Columbus "discovered" America, when, in 1492, he sailed the ocean blue. But that innocent mnemonic hides a historical record that is much, much darker.
When Columbus landed in what is today's Haiti, he was welcomed by indigenous people whose friendliness he noted in his journal. He repaid their goodwill, however, by enslaving them and subjecting them to beatings, torture and rape. Their lands were seized, and their population was decimated by murder and disease.
It's why Native Americans have spent years calling for the removal of Columbus statues, and the re-designation of sites bearing his name. Since the death of George Floyd and the massive demonstrations that have followed, however, commemorating Columbus has been caught up in the larger controversy over the symbols of racism, white supremacy and colonialism that have long occupied public spaces in America. As a result, figures of the Italian mariner have begun to tumble alongside those of Confederate generals.
Columbus monuments have been decapitated in Boston and New Jersey, and taken down in Detroit and New London, Connecticut. Here in NYC, ire has mainly been directed towards Columbus Circle and the statue at its center. But more recently, according to a report in the Brooklyn Paper, a petition has been circulating online that demands the renaming of Columbus Park in Downtown Brooklyn, and removal of the figure of him that stands there.
The petition, posted by an anonymous group calling itself The People, has garnered about 350 signatures, while a similar one regarding Columbus Circle has collected 5,000.
Columbus, of course, has long been embraced as an emblem of Italian-American pride, so pushback has been fierce, much as it's been with Confederate monuments in the South. In New York, however, the voices defending monuments of Columbus include Governor Cuomo and Mayor De Blasio. For now, it seems that Columbus won’t be setting sail from NYC anytime soon.
Most popular on Time Out
- Here’s what will reopen in NYC during Phase 2
- NYC will pay youth $1,200 to take online courses this summer
- The Metropolitan Opera streams a new slate of free productions every night this week
- Check out the new LaGuardia Airport’s spectacular public art installations
- When will hair salons reopen in NYC?