When Christopher Columbus Park was dedicated by Mayor Kevin White in the 1970s as one of the earliest waterfront parks in Boston, the true history of Columbus’s atrocities against indegenoius people wasn’t common knowledge. .
In schools across the country and here in the North End Columbus, it was taught, was an important explorer that discovered the New World aboard his three ships. and hero of Italian Americans everywhere.
Columbus’s legacy continues to be debated and while he was widely venerated in the centuries after his death, public perceptions have changed as scholars have given greater attention to negative aspects of his life.
Historians now widely agree with his enslavement of the indigenous population in his quest for gold and his brutal subjugation of the Taíno people of Hispaniola, leading to their near-extinction.
In recent years the Christoher Columbus statue in the park has been the subject of vandalism, beheadings and graffiti with some calling for its removal due to his alleged hand in indigenous genecoide in the Americas.
Last week, during the racial unrest that has swept across the nation, the Columbus statue was again vandalized.
First, red paint was thrown at the statue and Black Lives Matter spray painted at the base. Then a few days later the statue was decapitated.
The statue has since been removed by the City of Boston and is being stored in a warehouse by the city.
“We cannot condone vandalism, and it needs to stop,” said Mayor Martin Walsh of the statue’s removal. “This particular statue has been subject to repeated vandalism in Boston, and given the conversations that we’re having right now in our City and throughout the country, we’re also going to take the time to assess the historic meaning of the statue.”
Walsh added no formal decision has been made regarding the future of the Christopher Columbus statue.
Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, who represents and lives in the North End, said vandalism to private or public property is a completely wrong way to go about making a case for change, and that holds true on the vandalism that took place at Columbus Park.
“While Christopher Columbus has a complex history and symbolizes many different things to different people, there is a lot more to the history of the park then just the naming of it,” said Michlewitz. “That park was built in the late 1960s/early 1970s under Mayor Kevin White and designed by his Parks Director Tony Forgione. It was fought for by the North End people, who were at risk of watching their entire waterfront turn into development. The statue was placed later on as a celebration of Italian heritage and was paid for by the families that surround the base of the statue. Some of those families were original North End immigrant families and their memory to this community will not be removed.”
Already, many local Italian groups are calling for the statue to be put back in place at the public park and will be meeting with the Mayor.
Groups that will meet with the Mayor are the Sons and Daughters of Italy, UNICO, Foundation of Italian Organizations, St. Joseph’s Society, Pirandello Lyceum and the Italian American Alliance.
Michlewitz added that if the city wants to have a dialogue about the future of the statue and the park North Enders should be part of those discussions.
“I ask that the North End Community and the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park are the ones that lead the process on how to move forward,” he said. “I ask that the celebration of Italian Heritage, which built this community to its strength of today, be the focus of any discussion.”
“I will be working to make sure we have a dedication to Italian heritage that is protected and honored for generations to come,” said City Councilor Lydia Edwards.