CHICAGO — The city’s final monument to Christopher Columbus has been removed from the Far South Side.
The 7-foot statue was part of the Drake Fountain and had sat for more than 100 years on a triangular island where 92nd Street and Exchange and South Chicago avenues meet. But, like two statues for Columbus in Grant and Arrigo parks, it has been removed amid protests over monuments to Columbus and other controversial historical figures.
“Following public safety concerns over planned demonstrations similar to the one in Grant Park two weeks ago, the city has temporarily relocated the Christopher Columbus statue at Drake Fountain in the South Chicago neighborhood until further notice,” the Mayor’s Office said in a statement. “This temporary relocation is part of an effort to prevent individuals from pulling down statues in an extremely dangerous manner, which has created unsafe situations for protestors and police, as well as residents of the surrounding community.”
Ald. Sue Sadlowski Garza (10th), whose ward was home to the South Chicago statue, praised its removal in a Friday morning statement.
“Removing a statue to Columbus is not an insult to Italian Americans — keeping it standing is an insult to the Indigenous and Latinx men and women who lived, and died, for the American Dream,” Sadlowski Garza said in the statement. “It is an insult to the Native Americans who once lived near the same spot upon which the statue stood, and who were forced to flee colonization as Chicago was established.”
The statues in Grant and Arrigo parks were removed July 24. The statue in South Chicago was removed Thursday morning.
The Mayor’s Office said the statues are being kept in a secret storage facility for now. Mayor Lori Lightfoot hasn’t said if they’ll return or clarified what the city meant when it said their removal was “temporary.”
The statue in Grant Park had been the subject of high-profile protests in recent weeks — including one July 17 where police and protesters violently clashed, leaving dozens of protesters and police officers injured. At that protest, people scaled the statue, threw ropes around it and tried to pull it down.
The statues Downtown and in Little Italy were removed in a quick, pre-dawn operations with no announcement from the city, spawning comparisons to the secretive destruction of Meigs Field by then-Mayor Richard Daley in 2003.
Lightfoot, who previously said the statues should stay up, has more recently said Chicago needs more diversity in its monuments as it has few memorials for women and people of color.
The mayor said the city will create a formal process to assess Chicago’s monuments, memorials and murals “and develop a framework for creating a public dialogue to determine how we elevate our city’s history and diversity.”
Last week, the Chi-Nations Youth Council, which includes young Native American organizers who were among those who led the Grant Park protest last week, praised the decision to take down the Grant Park staute but said it came at the cost of “our blood and beaten bodies, at the hands of Chicago Police under the demands of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.”
“The people got this statue removed, the solidarity between Black and Indigenous peoples got this removed,” the group wrote in its statement. “Yet we don’t want to see this become a virtue signal. We want meaningful ways to address the harm caused by this structure that does not value the lives of Indigenous, Black and Brown peoples.”
Activists called for the city to remove the statues for years, as well as monuments to other problematic figures.
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.
“Christopher Columbus was once considered a symbol for Italian-Americans in the United States,” Sadlowski Garza said in a statement. “However, as society has evolved, and historical research has improved, we now understand that his achievements were not as glamorous as they once appeared.
“In contrast, Italian Americans have been a critical part of American history, and the building of Chicago. … There are no shortage of Italian Americans to honor — and we can do better than Christopher Columbus.”
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