Just two days after Mayor de Blasio spoke publicly of his idea to add contextual plaques to controversial statues around the city instead of razing them, Public Advocate candidate and Columbia University history professor David Eisenbach has proposed a completely different plan. In reference to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s call to remove Central Park’s Columbus statue based on accounts that the explorer enslaved and killed indigenous people, Eisenbach suggested an alternative where Columbus Circle would be divided into public educational “plazas.” As reported by DNAinfo, these would include three parts of the Circle for “Conquest, Slavery, and Immigration.” Instead of taking down the monument, he believes this would “tell the story of Columbus’ legacy, the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
— David Eisenbach (@Eisenbach4NY) August 31, 2017
As DNAinfo explains, “The design would feature educational panels that explain Columbus’ bloody conquests, his exploits with slavery, and the symbol he has since become for Italian-Americans.” Adjacent to the slavery plaza would be a separate panel about the USS Maine, an American naval ship that sank in Havana Harbor in 1898, sparking the Spanish-American War that ultimately led to the U.S.’s control of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Phillippines.
Italian-Americans, led by Italian-language daily newspaper Il Progresso Italo Americano, gifted the statue to the city in 1892. Eisenbech said, “we need to celebrate and honor the Italian-American immigrants who paid for that statue,” but he also added, “we can’t leave Columbus Circle as it is. It’s not 1892 anymore, we’ve learned a lot since then.”
The Public Advocate candidate feels his idea would open up similar dialogues for other controversial statues around the city. And though the city’s current 90-day review of possible “symbols of hate on city property” was sparked by the national push to remove Confederate markers, Eisenbech points to the fact that many acts committed by Union Army leaders such as William Tecumseh Sherman and Phillip Sheridan would be considered war crimes today. “I’m not saying we need to pull down Sherman or Sheridan’s statue, but what I’m saying is we need to have a discussion. We need to recognize that this question of tainted heroes is not just one for the South, it’s one for New York City,” he explained.
Letitia James, the city’s current Public Advocate, didn’t specifically comment on Eisenbach’s idea, but she did agree that the statue should remain and be used as a tool for teaching history.
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