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Christopher Columbus Statue Quietly, Officially Removed From Tower Grove Park

Crews lift the Christopher Columbus statue from its pedestal in Tower Grove Park on June 16, 2020.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio
Crews lift the Christopher Columbus statue from its pedestal in Tower Grove Park on Tuesday morning.

Updated at 5:50 p.m., June 16

A crew removed the statue of Christopher Columbus from Tower Grove Park in St. Louis with little fanfare early Tuesday morning.

The statue, which has stood at the east entrance to the park near South Grand Boulevard for more than a century, has become the subject of scrutiny in recent years. Petitioners have called for its removal, citing the explorer’s treatment of Native Americans. 

The park’s board of commissioners authorized the removal of the statue. The board said in a statement posted Tuesday on Facebook that the statue was originally intended to celebrate the immigrant community in the St. Louis region.

“But now, for many, it symbolizes a historical disregard for indigenous peoples and cultures and destruction of their communities,” the press release stated, adding that its removal is intended to reaffirm the park’s position as a welcoming place.

The park’s Board of Commissioners declined to comment on where the statue will be taken or if another monument will be erected in its place. 

A small crowd gathered in front of the statue Tuesday, as crews used crowbars to loosen it from its pedestal. Onlookers cheered as a crane lifted it into the air and laid it on a flatbed trailer. It wasn't clear who employs the crew; the workers did not appear to be city employees, and there were no names on their trucks. 

Crews lower the statue of Christopher Columbus onto a flatbed trailer on June 16, 2020.
Credit Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio
Crews lower the statue of Christopher Columbus onto a flatbed trailer Tuesday morning.

The statue’s removal in St. Louis is the latest in a national movement to remove Columbus statutes, as many see the Italian explorer as a violent colonizer. Columbus statues have been either beheaded or taken down by protesters in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Virginia. 

An advisory task force had decided to preserve the statue in September, rather than removing it from Tower Grove Park. The group consisted of representatives from several Native American tribes, Black Lives Matter activists, the Missouri Historical Society, the National Park Service and the St. Louis Art Museum.

“For me, it was a statue that honored a murderer,” said Maria Hussman, who was a part of the task force last year.

Hussman said while she recognizes the statue’s intent to honor Italian-American immigrants, the colonial history of Columbus is whitewashed and often does not include his part in the genocide of native peoples. 

Hussman, a member of the Anishinaabe Nation, added that she thinks the statue should still be studied and discussed.

“I don’t necessarily want to… have Christopher Columbus just struck from the record any more than I want to see any other ugly historical issue erased from the record,” she said.

The statue of Christopher Columbus stood in the park for about 140 years before its removal Tuesday. 061620
Credit Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio
The statue of Christopher Columbus stood in the park for about 140 years before its removal Tuesday.

Rio Vitale said he is sad to see the statue go because, to him, it honored Italians who were discriminated against.

“But that’s really not an argument that I’m going to present today to say that it should remain because it’s just too controversial,” said Vitale, who is the president of Ciao St. Louis, a non-profit dedicated to preserving Italian-American culture.

“We can pick a better symbol to represent our heritage and our suffering than Christopher Columbus.”

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

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Shahla Farzan is a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She comes most recently from KBBI Public Radio in Homer, Alaska, where she covered issues ranging from permafrost thaw to disputes over prayer in public meetings. Before becoming a journalist, Shahla spent six years studying native bees, eventually earning her PhD in ecology from the University of California-Davis. She has also worked at Capital Public Radio in Sacramento and as a podcaster for BirdNote. Her work for St. Louis Public Radio on drug overdoses in Missouri prisons won a 2020 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award. 
Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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