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Will Columbus Statue Come Down After All? Mayor Says City Will ‘Examine’ All City Monuments

Chicago has few statues for Black people and women. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city needs to "correct that problem."

Chicago police guard a statue of Christopher Columbus in Grant Park, after demonstrators spray painted it and tried to pull it down during a protest in support of Black and Indigenous people on July 17, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The city will examine who its statues and other monuments honor amid national controversy over memorials to white supremacists and other historical figures, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday.

Lightfoot’s comments came just days after police and protesters clashed, leaving dozens injured, when people tried to tear down a Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park.

Monuments to other controversial historical figures have been torn down or removed throughout the country as communities rethink who they’re honoring with statues and other memorials. The city has yet to remove its controversial markers, though.

Lightfoot didn’t say Monday if the city will remove the Columbus statue — but she said the city will do an “examination” of its monuments to determine who they honor.

Chicago has few statues for Black people and women. Lightfoot, speaking during a groundbreaking for a Far South Side restaurant, said the city needs to “correct that problem.”

“What I’ve said all along is we need to have a process by which we take inventory and stock of all of the various monuments, paintings and other things that memorialize our past and our history,” Lightfoot said. “We need to also understand what isn’t there.”

Lightfoot said she’ll release more information this week about how the city will start taking inventory of its monuments and the people they memorialize.

“It’s not just about a single statue; it’s about how we want to reflect our values as a city to make sure that everyone is reflected in our history, and particularly in our permanent memorialization of our history,” Lightfoot said Monday. “We have not historically done that. We need to do that, and this is the moment to address this at long last.”

The mayor did not comment on the Columbus statue specifically, though in late June she said she opposed removing the statues because they can teach people about the history of the United States.

The city’s Progressive Caucus released a statement Monday calling on the city to immediately remove the Columbus statue in Grant Park “as we begin a dialogue on what our city represents and who we want to memorialize.”

Two members of the caucus — Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) — previously said they were working on legislation to remove memorials to controversial figures, including the Columbus statue.

For years, people have called on the city to remove two Columbus statues and the Balbo monument outside of Soldier Field, as well as rename Douglas Park on the West Side, among other honorariums for historical figures.

The Columbus statue has been defaced numerous times over the years.

Columbus has long been touted as the man who “discovered” America on Oct. 12, 1492 — even though it was already populated. That’s made him a hero among some Italian Americans. But critics have noted Columbus didn’t discover America and his actions led to mass genocide and crimes, including rape and torture, against Indigenous people.

And the Balbo monument and road honors Italian Gen. Italo Balbo, who flew from Rome to Chicago. The Balbo monument in Burnham Park, which is a column atop a pedestal, was gifted to the city by fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in the early 1930s. Balbo was himself a fascist organizer and a powerful member of Mussolini’s government until his death in 1940.

Local activists have also tried to get the city to rename Douglas Park, which is named after Stephen A. Douglas, one of history’s most notorious slavery advocates. People have even changed the park’s sign to say “Douglass Park” in honor of Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Students renewed their efforts last week to rename the park in honor of Frederick Douglass.

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