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Columbus, Ohio, Takes Down Statue Of Christopher Columbus

A construction crew removed the massive Christopher Columbus statue from its place of honor outside Columbus, Ohio's City Hall on Wednesday morning, in one of the most dramatic cases yet of a city reshaping how its monuments reflect its sense of history and community identity.

Workers began climbing the more than 20-foot-tall metal statue at daybreak, draping large support bands around Columbus' waist to lift the statue from its perch on the south plaza of City Hall. In the background, the building's façade was lit by colors of the rainbow — a display that was recently used to celebrate the LGBTQ community during Pride Week.

A huge crane parked along the sidewalk on Broad Street then yanked Columbus off his pedestal and deposited the statue onto a waiting flatbed trailer.

The monument stood at City Hall for some 65 years. The city of Genoa, Italy, the explorer's birthplace, gave the statue to the Ohio city during festivities that coincided with the national holiday in October.

But nearly two weeks ago, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther announced the statue would be taken down.

"For many people in our community, the statue represents patriarchy, oppression and divisiveness," Ginther said. "That does not represent our great city, and we will no longer live in the shadow of our ugly past."

The imposing monument to Columbus will be placed in storage, according to the mayor. As for the spot outside City Hall, Ginther said it will be devoted to "artwork that demonstrates our enduring fight to end racism and celebrate the themes of diversity and inclusion."

The fate of the large Columbus statue had been a subject of a contentious debate in Ohio's capital.

"You can't just throw it under the rug and say, 'We're not standing for this, you gotta hide this,' " Larry Pishitelli, an Italian immigrant, recently told reporter Paige Pfleger of WOSU. "It's our heritage. Like it or not, it's how we got here."

A small Columbus statue still stands in the city on the grounds of the statehouse.

In recent years, Columbus' name has become increasingly linked not to a legacy of exploration and discovery, but to the violent colonization that followed his arrival in the Americas and the catastrophic effect it has had on existing civilizations.

In 2018, the city of Columbus opted not to observe the federal holiday that honors its controversial namesake.

A growing number of cities have chosen to devote the second Monday in October to Indigenous Peoples Day rather than to a celebration of the explorer.

Columbus Day "was adopted at a time when Italians were vilified and faced religious and ethnic discrimination," as NPR's Leila Fadel has reported. "Italian Americans latched onto the day as a way to mainstream and humanize themselves in the face of rampant discrimination. It became a national holiday in 1934 to honor a man who, ironically, never set foot in the United States. Columbus anchored in the Bahamas."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.