Philadelphia Historical Commission Votes To Remove Marconi Plaza Christopher Columbus Statue

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tags: colonialism, memorials, Columbus, Italian Americans

The Philadelphia Historical Commission voted to approve a Kenney administration proposal to remove a Christopher Columbus statue that was the site of a violent confrontation last month and to place it in storage. The vote marks the second-to-last procedural hurdle for Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposal to remove the Marconi Plaza icon. 

Nationwide protests over systemic racism and injustice have led to the toppling and removal of contentious statues and monuments across the country. Concerned that the South Philadelphia Columbus statue might be next, armed defenders congregated around the monument, physically and verbally assaulting protesters, prompting Kenney to put forth a proposal to remove the figure from the park in the interest of public safety. The Historical Commission meeting, the second in a series of special public meetings, came two days after a hearing held by the Philadelphia Art Commission and hours of public testimony. 

Opinions represented on Wednesday were varied. Local residents, members of the Italian American community, and Indigenous people called in to advocate for the statue’s removal, noting that Columbus has come to sybolize white supremacy, colonialism, and genocide and that there are better figures or stories that exemplify Italian American culture to celebrate. Many also spoke in favor of keeping the statue, several of whom overlapped with a list of speakers prepared for Friday’s Historical Commission Meeting by George Bochetto, an attorney who represents various interest groups close to the issue. 

The Art Commission held off voting on the matter, due to a court order, until August 12. The Art Commission will “digest” public input and will take the Historical Commission’s decision into consideration.

The statue was sculpted for and installed at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 in West Fairmount Park. It was relocated to Marconi Plaza in 1976 and was listed on the historic register in 2017, after being nominated by Celeste Morello. The designation placed the statue under partial jurisdiction of the PHC.

Because the statue has already been listed on the Philadelphia Register, the PHC’s purview on this matter is unrelated to questions of the statue’s historical merit, the history and legacy of Christopher Columbus himself, or of what the statue has come to represent, a point that was repeatedly stressed by the Commissioners throughout the public testimony. 

Despite repeated claims made by Bochetto that the PHC had a “duty” and “legal obligation” to consider the statue within its current environment, the criteria that the statue is listed under do not require such consideration.

Read entire article at WHYY

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