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Columbus statue removed as Boston monuments debate renewed

BOSTON — The body of a beheaded Christopher Columbus statue was removed Thursday from a park in Boston’s historically Italian North End as the city continues to grapple with controversial landmarks thrown into the spotlight anew during a national reckoning over racism triggered by the killing of George Floyd.

The statue, which was found beheaded early Wednesday, will be placed in storage as the city reassesses its significance, Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh has said. Walsh also said he was open to discussing changing the name of another landmark that has drawn protesters' ire: Faneuil Hall — considered the “Cradle of Liberty.”

Passersby glancing at the empty granite pedestal where the towering statue once stood said Thursday they had mixed emotions.

Columbus’ sailing expeditions led Europeans to discover America, opening the door to centuries of exploration, conquest and settlement that included establishment of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the killing of scores of Native Americans.

“I feel it should be removed and I feel it shouldn’t be removed," said Saideh Dartley, a retired elementary school teacher of Italian descent. “I feel its part of our country’s history, whether we like it or not. And we can’t erase all our history. If we don’t learn from the past, we can’t move forward.”

Lynne Esparo, a fellow Italian American, said people are understandably frustrated with Columbus' treatment of indigenous people, but also said the destruction of property was “sad and disappointing.”

“I don’t think it helps move forward the needle that everyone wants, which is fairness, equality and justice,” she said.

Italian American groups are planning a rally Sunday afternoon to demand the restoration of the city-owned statue, which was raised in 1979 but has been vandalized and beheaded a number of times over the years. The Italian American Alliance, which is organizing the event, called the beheading “cowardly vandalism.”

But Native American groups cheered Walsh’s decision to take down the statue, and said they’d strongly oppose efforts to return it to Christopher Columbus Park.

Mahtowin Munro, a spokeswoman for United American Indians of New England, said local indigenous groups will also continue to call on city and state leaders to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

“We have been protesting the statue for years as a monument to Indigenous genocide and land theft, African and Indigenous enslavement, and white supremacy,” she said in a statement. “This park should belong to the people of Boston and be a public place that feels welcoming to everyone in Boston, not a place that is a tribute to a genocidal monster.”

As protests over Floyd's killing at the hands of police in Minneapolis spark a larger dialogue about racism in the United States, Walsh also said Wednesday he's open to having “conversations” about changing the name of Faneuil Hall, which was built in 1742 with financing from merchant Peter Faneuil, who owned and traded slaves. His office stressed in a statement that he is personally opposed to the idea, though.

Walsh said at a news conference that "everything is on the table to have conversations about,” including changing the name of the hall, where Samuel Adams and other prominent Bostonians debated independence from Britain. The name has long been the subject of debate and was the subject of renewed protests Tuesday.

In the past, Walsh has argued the site’s connection to slavery should be acknowledged somehow but that changing the name would only serve to erase history.

The New Democracy Coalition, which has called for years for public hearings on changing the name, said the mayor's latest comments were encouraging nonetheless.

“We don’t want the mayor just to snap his fingers and change the name,” Kevin Peterson, the New Democracy Coalition’s founder, said in a news release. “We believe a public hearing on Faneuil Hall is critical to jumpstarting a conversation on the larger issues of race and reconciliation in the city.”

Peterson and a small group of activists on Tuesday poured fake blood in front of the hall.

The New Democracy Coalition has suggested the hall should be renamed in honor of Crispus Attucks.The colonial-era Bostonian, who was black and Native American, is considered the first casualty of the American Revolution. He's also become something of a rallying figure in nationwide protests following Floyd's killing.

 

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