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Relocated Christopher Columbus Statue Resurfaces in Adjacent Rhode Island Town

by Sophia Chen
7 comments
Christopher Columbus Statue Relocation

Three years subsequent to the removal of a Christopher Columbus statue from a public square in Providence, Rhode Island, the bronze figure has been reinstated in a park in Johnston, a town approximately 9 miles (14 kilometers) west of the state capital.

Previously targeted by vandals who had defaced it with red paint and a sign that read “Stop celebrating genocide,” the statue was taken down in 2020. Activists argue that honoring Columbus overlooks the extensive suffering—rape, murder, and genocide—endured by Indigenous populations during the European colonization of North America.

Johnston’s Mayor Joseph Polisena Jr. stated that his community, which has a significant Italian-American demographic, welcomes the opportunity to provide a new setting for the statue. “The significance transcends Italian American heritage. It is not merely a chapter in American history, but rather it is a component of global history when examined from a historical lens,” Polisena asserted.

While acknowledging that Christopher Columbus was not the inaugural European explorer to reach North America—that distinction is generally credited to Leif Erikson—Polisena noted that Columbus was instrumental in catalyzing an era of European exploration, expansion, and consequently, globalization.

The statue was purchased for approximately $50,000 by Joseph Paolino Jr., a former Mayor of Providence, who subsequently inquired if Johnston would be willing to host it. The statue, which features Columbus pointing ahead with his right arm while holding a globe in his left hand, is set to be officially revealed on Monday.

Mayor Polisena expressed his desire to preserve the statue. “The objective is not to dismantle or melt it. It serves as an educational tool to understand both its virtues and vices,” he said. Polisena also acknowledged the criticisms directed towards Columbus, but he contended that evaluating historical actions through the lens of present-day norms is inappropriate.

The decision to relocate the statue has not been universally welcomed. Harrison Tuttle, President of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC, opined that resurrecting the statue is insensitive to the societal progress achieved in recent years. Tuttle, despite his Italian lineage, believes there are alternative figures who better embody Italian-American contributions to the nation. He also expressed disappointment that Mayor Polisena did not consult with community members offended by the statue’s reinstatement.

In recent years, several cities have wrestled with the contested legacy of Christopher Columbus statues. Examples include Boston, where a Columbus statue was removed after being decapitated, and Richmond, Virginia, where protestors toppled a statue, set it aflame, and subsequently submerged it in a lake.

Darrell Waldron, Director of the Rhode Island Indian Council, expressed the antipathy that Native communities harbor towards Columbus’ legacy. “The historical narrative is not written by the victims of colonial crimes,” Waldron noted. At the time of the statue’s original removal, he and other advocates had hoped the statue would be sold and the proceeds used to commission a statue celebrating Native heritage.

This renewed attention to the statue coincides with ongoing debates surrounding the federal holiday falling on Monday, October 9, this year. President Joe Biden, in 2021, officially proclaimed Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time, giving impetus to the movement aimed at shifting the focus of the holiday away from Columbus and towards an acknowledgment of Native communities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Christopher Columbus Statue Relocation

What is the primary focus of the article?

The primary focus of the article is the relocation of a Christopher Columbus statue from Providence, Rhode Island, to a park in Johnston, Rhode Island. The article delves into the cultural, historical, and social debates surrounding the statue and its significance.

Who is responsible for the relocation of the Christopher Columbus statue?

The statue was purchased by Joseph Paolino Jr., a former Mayor of Providence, and subsequently relocated to Johnston after consultation with Johnston’s Mayor Joseph Polisena Jr.

What was the reason for the statue’s initial removal from Providence?

The statue was removed from its original location in Providence in 2020 after it had been vandalized and defaced with red paint and a sign saying “Stop celebrating genocide.”

What are the arguments against celebrating Christopher Columbus?

Activists argue that celebrating Christopher Columbus ignores the severe suffering, including rape, murder, and genocide, that Indigenous people endured during the European colonization of North America.

What is Mayor Joseph Polisena Jr.’s stance on the statue’s relocation?

Mayor Polisena welcomes the relocation and believes the statue represents not just Italian-American heritage but also a significant chapter in American and world history. He views the statue as an educational tool to understand both the virtues and vices of Christopher Columbus.

Who has criticized the relocation of the statue?

Harrison Tuttle, President of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC, has criticized the relocation. He believes that the decision is insensitive to societal progress and is particularly hurtful to those who are offended by Columbus’s historical actions.

Have other cities faced similar controversies regarding Columbus statues?

Yes, other cities like Boston and Richmond have also grappled with the contested legacy of Christopher Columbus statues. These statues have either been removed, vandalized, or are subjects of ongoing debates.

What federal developments have there been regarding the celebration of Columbus?

In 2021, President Joe Biden issued the first-ever presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, lending support to efforts to refocus the federal holiday away from celebrating Columbus and towards acknowledging Native communities.

What did Darrell Waldron of the Rhode Island Indian Council say about the statue?

Darrell Waldron expressed that there is no love lost between Native communities and the legacy of Columbus, stating that the historical narrative has not been written by the victims of colonial crimes. He had hoped the original statue would be sold and the proceeds used to commission a statue celebrating Native heritage.

What does the statue depict?

The statue features Christopher Columbus pointing forward with his right arm while holding a globe in his left hand. It is set to be officially revealed in its new location in Johnston on an upcoming Monday.

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7 comments

Anthony V. October 5, 2023 - 10:57 am

Johnston represent! Finally someone sees the historical importanc of Columbus. But also, thanks for not glossing over the dark sides, gotta have the full picture.

Reply
Samantha R. October 5, 2023 - 12:30 pm

Thanks for this. I had no idea Columbus statues were such a big deal. Its crazy how divided people are on this. Historys a minefield.

Reply
Michael P. October 5, 2023 - 2:05 pm

It’s about time we rethink these statues. I get it, some see it as heritage, but theres also a lot of pain associate with it too. kudos for touching on both sides.

Reply
John D. October 5, 2023 - 10:00 pm

Wow, really well-researched article! i’m from Rhode Island, and this issue’s been a hot topic. Can’t say everyone’s gonna agree, but thats democracy for ya.

Reply
Carlos M. October 6, 2023 - 4:39 am

Man, this is why I hate politics. Can’t even put up a statue without making national news. But hey, good article. At least its balanced.

Reply
Rebecca S. October 6, 2023 - 5:28 am

Didn’t Biden already make Indigenous Peoples Day official? Seems kinda backward to still be fighting over a Columbus statue. Just saying.

Reply
Linda T. October 6, 2023 - 9:44 am

I wish more ppl would listen to the activists. I mean, we’re in 2023, shouldn’t we be more progressive by now. Why even bring back the statue?

Reply

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