A crowd of activists toppled the marble Christopher Columbus statue near Little Italy Saturday night and dumped it into the Inner Harbor amid Fourth of July firework displays across the city.
Two weeks ago, an anti-racist protest group known as Baltimore Bloc publicly warned Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young that activists planned to take down the city’s Columbus monuments if his administration did not act to remove them.
The most prominent of three city monuments to Columbus, the statue at the eastern edge of the Inner Harbor was unveiled by President Ronald Reagan and Mayor William Donald Schaefer in 1984 and dedicated with the inscription to the “Discoverer of America.” The 14-foot statue was paid for by a citywide fundraising campaign led by the Italian American Organizations United of Maryland.
Two years ago year this summer, 19 months after a city commission recommended two of the city’s four Confederate monuments be taken down and two more receive educational plaques, then-Mayor Catherine Pugh ordered the removal of all four.
Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, told the Baltimore Sun that the destruction of Columbus statue is part of a “re-examination taking place nationally and globally around some of these monuments and statues that may represent different things to different people.”
City Council President Brandon Scott, who won last month’s Democratic mayoral primary, issued a statement Saturday night saying he supports both the Baltimore’s Italian-American community and Baltimore’s indigenous community. “I cannot, however, support Columbus,” Scott said.
In 2016, Scott introduced a bill that would’ve renamed Columbus Day in the city to Indigenous Peoples Day. Scott said the intention of the legislation, which did not pass, was “to honor the many peoples inhabiting North America before its colonization by European settlers.”
Scott said he suggested to former Mayor Catherine Pugh that she remove the Columbus statue along with the city’s Confederate statues following a violent conflict between white supremacists and anti-racism activists in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey has introduced a bill that would rededicate the Columbus obelisk at Herring Run to the victims of police brutality.
In a statement Sunday, Governor Larry Hogan condemned the destruction of the Columbus statue and said Baltimore leaders had lost “control of the city and their own streets.”
“While we support peaceful protests and constructive dialogue on whether and how to put certain monuments in context or move them to museums or storage through a legal process, lawlessness, vandalism, and destruction of public property are completely unacceptable,” Hogan said. “That is the antithesis of democracy and should be condemned by everyone, regardless of their politics. Baltimore City leaders need to regain control of their own streets and immediately start making them safer.”
Several state delegates representing Baltimore County and Harford County and a group of Italian-American activists demanded Young and Hogan protect the city’s statues and monuments erected to honor Christopher Columbus at a June 29 press conference at the Inner Harbor.
In a tweet Saturday night, Del. Kathy Szeliga called the pulling down of the Columbus memorial on July 4 “shameful,” and asked where the police and Mayor Young were while the statue was being toppled. She suggested citizens, “move out of Baltimore City while you can if you still live there.”
“This is deeply personal and an affront to the Italian American community and all law-abiding Marylanders,” tweeted State Del. Nino Mangione, a Republican from Baltimore County. “The city of Baltimore has been disgraced once again. America weeps at this outrage.”
This is deeply personal and an affront to the Italian American community and all law-abiding Marylanders. The city of Baltimore has been disgraced once again. America weeps at this outrage. I will have much more to say about this as the day unfolds. pic.twitter.com/bsqRdNISfJ— Nino Mangione (@NMangione2018) July 5, 2020
Baltimore’s annual October Columbus Day Commemoration and Italian Heritage Festival and parade, approaching 130 years, is believed to be the longest-running celebration in honor of Columbus in the country.
In his speech on July 4, President Donald Trump pledged to “defend, protect, and preserve American way of life, which began in 1492 when Columbus discovered America.”
The Italian-born explorer’s legacy has received increased scrutiny in recent decades as his brutal treatment of the native people of the Caribbean islands and Central America—including mass slaughter, forced mining, enslavement, and child rape—has become better known and understood.
Popular myths regarding Columbus, long taught in schools, have also been exposed by scholars, changing public perception of the nature of his voyages. Columbus did not prove the “flat Earth” theory wrong. Nor was Columbus the first European to sail to the continent, as Scandinavians sailors had done so centuries earlier. Those beliefs and others took hold in the United States after acclaimed writer Washington Irving popularized an “Americanized” Columbus in a best-selling fictionalized historical biography in 1828.
With the pulling down of the statue, Baltimore joins a growing list of cities this summer, including Richmond, Montgomery, Boston, and St. Paul, that have witnessed the toppling of Confederate and Columbus memorials. Numerous cities across the country have made plans to remove statues.