Tearing Down These Monuments Doesn’t Erase History. It Rescues History.Breaking News
tags: statues, Confederacy, monuments, Columbus
Columbus Circle's most prominent marble resident must be shaking in his buckled boots. After a statue of Christopher Columbus in Richmond, Virginia was torn down and thrown in a lake Tuesday night, the nation awoke Wednesday morning to learn another effigy of the Genovese who sailed for Spain had been beheaded in Boston's North End. It's a reminder of his ubiquity in the American public square, and a sign of how fast things are moving. How long until Central Park's southwest corner comes under new management?
The argument in favor of removing Columbus from his current position leering down on people from on high—in the case of Manhattan's statue, 76 feet above the street—is that he was a rampaging genocidaire and slaver who promoted the rape of Native women and girls among his lieutenants and sanctioned the murder of infants. His crimes against humanity were brutal and widespread, and he was at one point sent back to Spain in shackles, though that may have been down to more of a political dispute with a royal emissary sent to investigate his mismanagement of the Spanish colony on Hispaniola. He ultimately escaped with a pardon, both in law and in history.
Because that's what's really going on here. It's about the history. When you build a statue of someone and place it at a center of civic life, it's not a statement that they existed, or that they did things. Many people have lived and died and done things in between. It's a statement that they should be honored, revered, held up as an icon around which we should organize our society. That their deeds, and the values they lived by, should be a source of inspiration for us all in the here and now. And the only way that Christopher Columbus gets that kind of honor is if you teach kids in school that he sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and leave out the murder. That he discovered North America—he didn't—but not that he systematically mutilated human beings who failed to deliver him enough gold. Otherwise, the kids might start asking why there's a statue of a mass murderer in town. Children, strangely, are rarely so confused about all this. They know what it means when something is big and tall and in the center of things.
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