Petition Calls for Removing Columbus Statue in Tower Grove Park

click to enlarge Calls to remove the Christopher Columbus statue have gotten new life as people across the country question statues while protesting racial injustice. - DOYLE MURPHY
Calls to remove the Christopher Columbus statue have gotten new life as people across the country question statues while protesting racial injustice.

As of midday Monday, more than 2,300 people had signed a Change.Org petition calling for the removal of the statue of celebrated naval explorer and colonizer Christopher Columbus in St. Louis' Tower Grove Park.

A year ago, the Tower Grove Park commissioners thwarted a similar call to remove the statue on the grounds "it represents Italian Americans." But petition organizer Rachel Sender is calling for the commissioners to reconsider that decision on the grounds of historical evidence that shows Columbus was "a war criminal who raped, tortured, pillaged and murdered the people indigenous to the land he stole."

Sender goes on to note that in light of momentum for racial justice surging nationally, Columbus "represents racism, colonialism, slavery and white supremacy and should not be given any honorable remembrance or be a symbol of Tower Grove Park."

Sender, 28, grew up in South Orange, N.J. and moved three years ago to St. Louis to pursue a doctoral degree in biological anthropology at Washington University.

She now lives in the Shaw Neighborhood, where she noticed the Columbus statue during walks with her dog.

"When I first moved to the area, I saw the little sign that said it was controversial and they were working on steps toward addressing that," she says. "Which I thought was great and was really proud of. But then I learned that ultimately they decided to leave the statue up."

Over the past few weeks, with a current nationwide movement toward ending racism and promoting racial justice gaining traction, Sender started to look for online petitions calling for the Columbus statue's removal. She couldn't find any.

"So I thought that I would put it out there," she says. 

Like countless other American school children, Sender says she was taught as a young girl that Columbus was a great hero. As she grew older, though, she learned about the famed explorer's darker legacy.

"In actuality, if you read the records, first of all he didn't 'discover' America," she says. "Because people lived here for 14,000 years before he arrived. And when he got here, he was one of the first people to become a transatlantic slave trader ... He was known for cruelly murdering people, cutting off their hands if they didn't bring him gold. I think he wasn't what should symbolize America, and any community here. I think we can do better."

Sender says she hasn't really thought about who should take the place of the Columbus statue in the event it is removed.

"It's a really good question," she says. "Maybe the Italian community here in St. Louis can figure out who they would want to represent them. Or perhaps it could be a Native-American. All the statues in St. Louis seem to be of old white men."

People pushing for the Columbus statue's removal plan to hold a protest on June 23, when the Tower Grove Park Board of Commissioners is set to meet at the Piper Palm House in the park.

The latest effort to remove Tower Grove's Columbus statue is part of a growing national reckoning with monuments to white men whose contributions to culture and civilization increasingly have been questioned.

Momentum is building to remove statues memorializing Confederal war heroes across the Deep South, while in Congress a bi-partisan effort is gaining ground to rename U.S. military bases that were originally named for Confederate generals. President Donald Trump has already gone on record to say he opposes such efforts.

Christopher Columbus' legacy is perhaps falling the hardest. Celebrated in generations of American classrooms as a valiant explorer who brought Christianity to the New World, Columbus in recent years is being viewed within the context of his documented harsh treatment of indigenous peoples he came into contact with, and the heavy-handed and cruel discipline he inflicted on the men who served under his command.

Indeed, Columbus' last journey to the Americas ended ignominiously, when his men rose up against his tyrannical rule and sent him back to Spain in chains.

Editor's note: This story was updated after publication with additional information.
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