Some Columbus residents of Italian descent want the city’s statue back

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Sixty-six years ago, Landa Masdea Brunetto’s father and grandfather hastily worked all night in the family’s machine shop to make special bolts and washers needed the next day to erect the newly arrived statue of Christopher Columbus in front of Columbus Town Hall.

“My dad and my grandfather literally stayed awake all night,” said Masdea Brunetto.

To members of the city’s Italian community, the 7,000-pound bronze gift from the people of Genoa, Italy, the sister city of Columbus, was more than a mere statue of the city’s namesake. It was a coming of age for a people who had long felt the sting of discrimination and second-class citizenship.

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“They had to keep their heads down; they had to dismantle their Italian ways and become Americans,” said Brunetto, 67, recalling his insomniac grandfather then leading the Italian group which performed in a dedication ceremony outside. about 100,000 people.

Mayor Andrew J. Ginther rushed the removal of the exiled statue in July 2020 amid racial justice protests that took place downtown after the murder of George Floyd Jr. on May 25, 2020 by the officer in Minneapolis Police Derek Chauvin.

Many Columbus residents of Italian descent say they were left out of the big city hall statue decision, “being glossed over and ignored, and patted on the head,” Brunetto said.

A month earlier, Columbus State University first announced it was removing its statue of Christopher Columbus from its downtown campus. In a written statement, Columbus State President David Harrison called the move “a symbolic gesture of our commitment to our university community to continue and accelerate the fight against systemic racism.”

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As a second Columbus Day passes today (October 11) without the two statues, some members of the Italian community of Columbus want the city to reinstall the statue or donate it to community groups who helped bring it to life here in 1955.

The statue of Christopher Columbus was unpacked after arriving by train.  These words from the Mayor of Genoa appear on a plaque at the base of the statue: "Testimony of the values ​​and virtues that the figure and the enterprise of the great son of Genoa have entrusted to human conscience," and, from Columbus Mayor Jack Sensenbrenner: "We will cherish and always be guided by its meaning." He concludes: “Consecrated on October 12, 1955, in front of 100,000 grateful Americans.

“I don’t think they’re hiding it for their own protection anymore,” said Bill DeMora, four-time former president of the Columbus Italian Club. “I think they’re hiding it because there’s nowhere to put it.

“I don’t think the community as a whole has found a solution,” he said.

“Public art is powerful and people have different perceptions about it,” said Diane Nance, who chairs a special committee of the Christopher Columbus statue from the city’s Arts Commission, which by city code , is officially responsible for all art belonging to the city. The committee, formed last spring, is responsible for deciding the fate of the city’s Columbus statue.

When Ginther announced that the city statue was going to fall, he said that for many people it represented “patriarchy, oppression and division. It does not represent our great city and we will no longer live in it. shadow of our horrible past “.

At the time, statues of Christopher Columbus across the country and the world were literally under attack, and Ginther’s decision was hailed by many social justice groups who said that Columbus, the explorer, represented the genocidal cleansing. of the New World and the exploitation of indigenous peoples.

Groups had gathered in 2017 to demand the removal of the statue from the city.

Today, as the city center slowly wakes up from a somewhat desolate state caused by COVID-19, the City Hall statue stands in the corner of a secure municipal warehouse.

At least for a while, the city’s Columbus statue wore a blue COVID mask, according to a photo that was leaked to former TV reporter and current city council candidate Tom Sussi, who posted it online .

As for the tall two-story Columbus State statue, its fate also remains unanswered. This massive 20-ton stone job, after the bottom was covered in graffiti by protesters last year, has been moved to an undisclosed off-site storage site, paid for by a private donor, Brent Wilder said, spokesperson for Downtown Community College.

Christopher Columbus's head and upper body sit in the back of a flatbed trailer as a construction crew removes his statue from the main campus of Columbus State Community College on Friday, June 19, 2020.

The Columbus State Statue was created by sculptor Alfred Solani in 1959 and was first installed in a park in Illinois before being moved to the State of Columbus. At the time, the college paid $ 25,000 to build a pedestal and $ 25,000 to repair and restore it, according to Dispatch records.

“Discussions are underway on a possible relocation, but nothing is set at this time,” Wilder said in an email.

The subcommittee tasked with discussing the fate of the city statue was due to complete its work this month with a report, but it now looks like early next year will be the first decision to be made, Nance said.

La Dépêche was unable to reach two members of the subcommittee representing the statue’s critical point of view last week. But according to video from a previous meeting in June available on the internet, one of those members, Dan Montour, said that if the city’s Columbus statue was ever to be on public display again, it had to be accompanied by significant exhibits explaining the atrocities. committed by Columbus “which were whitewashed”.

“All over this country Columbus is taught differently,” Montour said at the meeting. “We know that in this country we have a very tenuous relationship with history. Some people think that the civil war is called the war of aggression in the North. Many of us were not informed of the massacre. racial violence in Tulsa residential schools for native children.

These “holes” in the history books need to be filled, Montour said. “If the statue goes back, the idea that it is an educational device is one of the best ways to view it,” he said, explaining in particular why the people of Columbus thought that it was a good idea to install it, and why they then I thought about it and removed it.

“One of the reasons this thing has stayed put is because it’s a gift,” Montour said. “We recognize the intentions of the people of Genoa.”

The statue not only appeared in town one day, but was the product of extensive work by Italian residents who contacted donors in Genoa, said Joseph Contino, spokesperson for the Columbus Piave Club.

The unveiling of the 16-foot, three-ton statue of Christopher Columbus was the highlight of the Columbus Day celebration on October 12, 1955.  The statue, placed on the south side of the Town Hall, was a gift from the citizens of Genoa, Italy, the birthplace of Columbus.  A time capsule placed in the base of the statue during the dedication was found in 1979 during its cleaning.  (Photo from Columbus Dispatch by Arthur Greenspan).

“The statue was donated to our club, and we donated it to the city,” Contino said. “I do not understand why it is not obvious to return it to us.

“They (the city officials) were very disrespectful to us. We didn’t get a phone call.… Just give us the statue. We will find a place for it.”

Money is not an issue, Contino said, as the club has wealthy benefactors who can fund any relocation effort – many of them are sons and daughters of immigrants who set up successful Columbus businesses. and important.

The subcommittee has progressed to writing informative content about Christopher Columbus that could surround the statue if it were to reappear in a public space, Nance said.

“We’re just the first step,” Nance said. “We are doing the first work towards it.”

Nance said the members of the subcommittee have been exceptionally respectful of each other.

“We have a big job,” he said. “This discussion starts here, but it might not end here.”

Meanwhile, a third statue of Christopher Columbus remains in place outside the Statehouse.

The Capital Square Review and Advisory Board, which oversees the Statehouse grounds, had only received one email complaint about the statue of Columbus at the time the announcements about the removal of the other two statues were made, and it made no decision to remove his statue.

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