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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

Chicago Removed Its Columbus Statues After Protests. An Italian-American Group Is Suing To Bring One Back

The statues had been the subject of high-profile protests last year. The Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans wants to restore the one in Arrigo Park.

The Little Italy statue of Christopher Columbus has been defaced numerous times throughout the years. This photo shows vandalism from 2017.
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LITTLE ITALY — An Italian-American organization is suing the Chicago Park District to restore the Christopher Columbus statue removed from Little Italy after protests last year.

The Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans want city officials to reinstall the statue at Arrigo Park, which dated back to 1966 before it was taken down.

The Columbus statues at Grant Park and Arrigo Park were removed July 24, 2020, hours after an abrupt decision from Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

The Grant Park monument had been the site of high-profile protests — including one the week prior in which police and protesters violently clashed, injuring dozens of protesters and officers. At that protest, people scaled the statue, threw ropes around it and tried to pull it down.

A week later, a third statue honoring the explorer was removed from an intersection on Chicago’s South Side at East 92nd Street.

“This step is about an effort to protect public safety and to preserve a safe space for an inclusive and democratic public dialogue about our city’s symbols,” Lightfoot said at the time. 

The mayor said the removals were temporary. The Italian-American group said they have pushed the city leaders to bring back the Arrigo statue, but their requests have been rebuffed or ignored.

The group alleges documents signed in October 1973 prevent any changes to the statues without the approval of a committee.

“We have reached out to the Park District and to the city on several occasions, including a formal letter and ten-exhibit outline of our position, with no response from either,” JCCIA President Ron Onesti said in a statement. “Their lack of response has made litigation unavoidable so as to protect the interests of Chicago’s Italian-American community.”

Park District officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

As more people pushed city leaders to reassess which historical figures are honored throughout Chicago, Lightfoot announced earlier this year the future of more than three dozen statues and public art pieces would be assessed by a monuments and memorials advisory committee.

Some of the work of that group has been shrouded in secrecy. Earlier this month, committee members delayed a long-anticipated recommendation on the monuments, saying they needed more time to speak with community members.

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