Proposal divides Columbus Circle into three zones: Conquest, Slavery, and Immigration

September 1, 2017

Photo via

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.”

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.

[Via DNAinfo]


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  1. G

    This is more appalling silliness.

    What do these ‘plazas’ have to do with the statue, or history? How much is this unnecessary plaza-ing going to cost? Who will pay attention to the result?

    Why not simply add interpretive plaques or panels that explain why the monument was erected: Italian immigrants proud of the Columbus that school children grew up ‘knowing,’ then in a second statement, on the same plaque, the addition of a true portrait of the actual man that historical research has given us.

    It’s simple, and doesn’t require symbolic plazas of questionable political perspective that everyone will forget about immediately after the plaza-zation has been completed, and boat-loads of money spent.

    Not one of the statues or place names celebrating to Columbus, or Peter Stuyvesant for that matter, were erected to celebrate conquest or bigotry. These were not erected to celebrate or reinforce racial dominance as the statues erected to, say, Stonewall Jackson or Robert E. Lee were during the era of ‘Jim Crow.’

    If the defenders of the Confederate statues have ever offered to erect interpretive plaques mentioning the brutal reality of slavery, it’s ghastly reality…we would probably not be having this conversation now.

    As a further comment: Mr. Eisenbach, we know it’s not 1892 anymore. A simple plaque will suffice. Maybe two or three. No plaza required.