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Is A Statue Of Christopher Columbus Next To Come Down? Protesters Hope So

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A Christopher Columbus statue in downtown Columbus has long been a source of controversy.

As protesters around the country push for the removal of Confederate monuments, a group rallied near the Ohio Statehouse against a different kind of statue: one of Christopher Columbus.

Several cities like Lexington, Ky., and Baltimore, Md., have pledged to remove their Confederate monuments following the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend. As WOSU previously reported, Central Ohio has almost no Confederate monuments of its own.

But Stacey Little, one of the rally's organizers, says Christopher Columbus fits right into the national conversation about America's history of racism.

"Everything else we talk about stems from that one particular man," Little says. "How do we start the conversation? Let's start at the beginning. We can’t skip and jump and hop because we want to and we feel like it’s convenient. Let’s start at where it originated and go from there, and he’s the originator."

Other cities are removing monuments that aren’t directly Civil War related, most notably Indianapolis and Baltimore. On Friday, Baltimore announced they’ll remove a statue of Roger B. Taney, the Supreme Court justice who wrote the infamous Dred Scott ruling.

In other instances, disputes have been settled by adding a plaque with accurate accounts of what the figure did. But Little said that doesn't address the larger picture.

"What does this really do?" Little says. "Like I can now walk up to this statue still that towers over me and just read what he's done instead of just taking it down and replacing it with something that represents everyone? Putting a placard doesn't change anything."

The Columbus statue is no stranger to protests, although they normally appear in October around Columbus Day. In the 1980s and '90s, the city celebrated the holiday with a big parade, but cut down the festivities after protests in part by Native American groups. 

Ruben Herrera, another organizer, said the Columbus statue does not symbolize a point of pride in the country's history.

"It’s a constant reminder of the very base of rape and pillage and genocide, and robbing and taking who we are, basically our culture, and typical... in western or American fashion we celebrate that as opposed to look at what it really means," Herrera says.

Critics may ask: If protesters want to take down a statue of the city's namesake, does that mean they want Columbus to change its name entirely?

To which Herrera and Little say: Yes, eventually. They said Columbus' name should be up for discussion in the future.

"So in organizing and in asking, you always have to be thinking several years ahead," Herrera says. "It starts with a conversation, right, and really looking at educating people, and I personally would be a part of that campaign because that's offensive to me, the name of the city."

Updated: August 21, 9:30 a.m.

More than 100 people gathered at City Hall on Saturday to protest the Christopher Columbus statue, which is one of at least three in the city, according to the Dispatch. Despite heightened tensions at other monument-related rallies around the country, no counter-protesters seemed to have appeared.

In a statement, Mayor Andrew Ginther said that while he supports the removal of monuments celebrating the Confederacy, he asks that residents look beyond the controversies of the Columbus statue.

"I would urge people to remember that the disturbing and tragic events that unfolded in Charlottesville were not about statues, but about persistent racism in our country," Ginther said. "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."

The Columbus City Council, and the Columbus Italian Club did not return requests for comment by the time of publishing.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.