As activists in several U.S. cities pull down and damage memorials to Christopher Columbus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo voiced support Thursday for a statue of the explorer in Manhattan.
In recent years, critics who point to evidence of Columbus’ brutality toward indigenous peoples have called for New York City to remove the 70-foot-tall statue of Columbus standing atop a column in the middle of Manhattan’s Columbus Circle. Such protesters also want New York to rename Columbus Day and call it Indigenous People’s Day, arguing that commemorating Columbus glorifies a symbol of genocide and enslavement.
Those calls have been renewed in many cities in the wake of nationwide protests against racism following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
Italian American communities, however, have used memorials to Columbus, who was from Genoa, as a way to celebrate their own heritage. The Manhattan statue, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places, was put up in 1892 as the Italian American community attempted to overcome prejudice and assimilate into American society.
Cuomo, who is Italian American, defended the statue Thursday while saying he understands the ongoing dialogue surrounding it.
“I understand the feelings about Christopher Columbus and some of his acts, which nobody would support. But the statue has come to represent and signify appreciation for the Italian American contribution to New York,” Cuomo said. “So for that reason I support it.”
In 2017, vandals doused the hands of a Christopher Columbus statue in blood-red paint and scrawled the words “hate will not be tolerated.”
Earlier that year, a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue led to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to set up a commission to evaluate how to deal with controversial sculptures.
The Columbus statue was among those considered by the commission, which recommended adding historical markers to give more context.
In New York City, Democratic lawmakers have called on the military to rename two streets — General Lee Avenue and Stonewall Jackson Drive — at a base in Brooklyn.
They wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper that soldiers “deserve to serve on bases that honor their ancestors’ contributions to our nation, not those who fought to hold those same ancestors in bondage.”
De Blasio said Thursday: “Nothing should be named after Robert E. Lee at this point in history.”