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.”
Mayor de Blasio via Wiki Commons (L); Columbus Circle’s Christopher Columbus statue via Eden, Janine and Jim/Flickr
Peter Stuyvesant and Christopher Columbus might stick around if Mayor de Blasio’s “plan B” regarding controversial statues takes shape, according to the Post. In response to a proposal from City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to remove Central Park’s Columbus statue based on accounts that he enslaved and killed indigenous people he met during his explorations, the Mayor said that many of the monuments in question may receive plaques that put their history in context instead of being completely razed. This came just moments after he announced that he’ll still be walking in the Columbus Day Parade as it’s about “ethnic pride.” He also urged concerned parties “to take a step back” and not “prejudge” before an official city commission is assembled to review such monuments.
“Christopher Columbus is a controversial figure for many of us, particularly those that come from the Caribbean,” said Puerto Rican-born City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. According to DNAinfo, Viverito is calling on the city to consider removing the Columbus Circle statue of the Italian explorer as part of their larger 90-day review of “symbols of hate.” She first introduced the proposal on Monday at a rally in East Harlem to remove another controversial statue, that of Dr. James Marion Sims, who achieved his title as the father of modern gynecology by performing experiments on slaves without consent and without anesthesia. Columbus, honored for discovering the Americas, is also believed to have enslaved and killed many of the indigenous people he encountered. In response, the Mayor’s office said the proposal will receive “immediate attention.” But of course, not everyone is happy about it.
Both sides of the debate
1892 Columbus Day parade, via NYPL
Annually, the Columbus Day parade draws nearly a million viewers to Fifth Avenue, but that’s nothing compared to the festivities of 1892, when New Yorkers celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Italian explorer’s Caribbean landing for seven full days. Columbus Week was a completely decked out party with a Hudson River naval parade, Brooklyn Bridge fireworks, a music festival, and the first Columbus Day Parade, which consisted of 12,000 public school children, 5,500 Catholic school children, military drill squads, and 29 marching bands.
It’s easy to forget that Columbus Day is more than just a day off from work (which we’re not complaining about), but rather a holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1942. But if you need reminding, look no further than these memorials scattered around New York City.
Take a tour of where to find Christopher Columbus monuments in NYC