The people and ideas a community celebrates in its public spaces reflect our values, our aspirations and our times. Our times demand an honest reappraisal of the statue of Christopher Columbus in one of Syracuse’s most prominent public squares — one that leads us to support Mayor Ben Walsh’s intention to replace it with a symbol that will unify the community instead of dividing it.
The Columbus statue was raised in 1934 by Syracuse’s Italian American residents as a monument to their culture and civic belonging. At the time, popular history’s view of Columbus was of a heroic explorer who “discovered” the New World and brought Christianity to the Western Hemisphere.
Since then, our understanding of Columbus has expanded and evolved to include the perspectives of the people on the receiving end of his conquest: the Indigenous peoples who were here for millennia, and who were nearly wiped out in the centuries of colonization that followed. They are represented on the statue literally under the feet of Columbus and on their knees in subservience.
Today’s supporters of keeping the statue wish to recast Columbus as a monument to their ancestors’ perseverance in the face of discrimination against immigrants in this city. That selective view of history is blind to the pain of the Onondaga Nation people on whose ancestral land it sits. To them, Columbus is a symbol of genocide, oppression, subjugation, theft and cultural erasure.Syracuse.com, 10/10/2021