On Wednesday, Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney issued a statement in which he championed the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue at Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia, thought to be the first publicly-funded monument to Christopher Columbus in the United States, citing his concern for “public safety.”
Like many communities across the country, Philadelphia is in the midst of a much-needed reckoning about the legacy of systemic racism and oppression in this country and around the world. Part of that reckoning requires reexamining what historical figures deserve to be commemorated in our public spaces. In recent weeks, clashes between individuals who support the statue of Christopher Columbus in Marconi Plaza and those who are distressed by its existence have deteriorated—creating a concerning public safety situation that cannot be allowed to continue.
We must find a way forward that allows Philadelphians to celebrate their heritage and culture while respecting the histories and circumstances of others that come from different backgrounds.
City officials announced on Wednesday they are initiating a process they hope to culminate in approval from the Philadelphia Art Commission for removing the statue after they offer a formal proposal on July 22. CBS Philadelphia reported on June 14, “A city spokesperson told Eyewitness News that there are no plans to remove the statue from Marconi Plaza any time in the future.”
A group of people had been keeping around-the-clock guard of the Columbus statue earlier this month; one member of the group stated of those people who wanted to remove the statue, “They’re doing the same Columbus did. They’re coming into our neighborhood and taking away our heritage, OK? They’re hypocrites.” Another person echoed, “The first thing that I learned in third grade — Christopher Columbus discovered America. So as an Italian immigrant, this [statue] represents something to me, my Italian history.”
The marble statue of Columbus was originally erected on October 12, 1876, for Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition, purchased for $18,000 with money raised by Italian-Americans and the Columbus Monument Association. On June 17 city workers boarded it up with a wooden box to protect it.
Public Art Director Margot Berg stated, “Philadelphia’s public art should reflect the people and spirit of our city without dividing us as a community. As we’ve seen demonstrated here and across the country, many of the individuals that are celebrated in bronze and stone are a point of pride to some, while causing great pain for others whose ancestors were impacted by their actions and whose communities still suffer under systems of oppression. While it may seem counterintuitive, the reality is that one aspect of managing a public art collection is the occasional removal of works from public view.”
The city asked local residents to offer their opinions on an online petition which will be available through July 21.
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