Should Baltimore replace smashed Columbus monument? Councilman conducts survey

A Baltimore city councilman is conducting a survey of residents who live near a vandalized Christopher Columbus monument — believed to be the oldest in America — with the hope of replacing it to represent “current-day values.”

Councilman Ryan Dorsey says the 225-year-old monument to Columbus in Herring Run Park should be replaced, but not with another statue honoring the Italian explorer.

“The overwhelming opinion I’ve heard is there must be an alternative," Dorsey said. “It cannot go back to being a Columbus monument. … If you put the same inscription tablet back in, what is the likelihood someone is not going to smash it again?”

The 44-foot obelisk is believed to be the first monument in the country to honor Columbus. It was erected in 1792 by Frenchman Chevalier d’Anemours to honor the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ journey from Europe in 1492.

The monument was on d’Anemours’ estate at what is now the intersection of Harford Road and North Avenue — currently the site of the Eastside District Court building — until it was moved to its current location in 1963.

In August, someone took a sledgehammer to it.

A video posted to YouTube by a user named “Popular Resistance” showed a man striking the base of the monument repeatedly with a sledgehammer. Another person held a sign that read: “Racism, tear it down.” Another sign was taped to the monument reading: “The future is racial and economic justice.”

The narrator of the video, who said his name is Ty, called Christopher Columbus a “genocidal terrorist.”

Police said they were investigating, and Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks workers retrieved the marble fragments and stored them.

Police spokesman T.J. Smith said Friday that no arrest had been made in the case.

Now Dorsey says area residents should have a say in what should be done next at the site.

He said fewer than 100 people have responded to his survey, which he launched last weekend. He has been collecting copies of the survey in person and online.

“There’s a diversity of opinions,” he said. “Some say it should be for native and indigenous people. A prominent suggestion is W.E.B. Dubois, who lived within walking distance of the site.”

Dorsey said some have responded saying they wish to keep a monument to Columbus, but he argued that those people are often “preoccupied with law and order politics.”

The monument is owned by the city, which means Mayor Catherine Pugh’s administration would ultimately make a decision about what should be done there. Pugh did not respond to a request for comment.

Dorsey’s survey says “society can more justly recount history for future generations.”

“As we work to restore the obelisk, we want to rededicate a monument that memorializes our current day values and responds accurately to history,” it states.

Marc A. De Simone Sr., chairman of the Board of Governors of the Italian American Civic Club of Maryland — founded by former Baltimore Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro Jr. — said club members met with Dorsey and Pugh this week to discuss restoring the monument, which he called the oldest in the world.

“We would hope they would be proactive in efforts to find and prosecute the perpetrator of the vandalism,” he said. “We hoped to solicit their support for the speedy repair for the restoration of the monument to its original state. And we hope they would take extra steps to protect all three of our Columbus monuments moving forward.”

He said the Italian-American organization is getting ready for its 127th consecutive Columbus Day parade this weekend. He said the parade is the longest-running in the world.

“They’re looking at Columbus with 2017 eyeglasses on,” De Simone said of Columbus critics. “Of course he was a flawed hero. But look at what he accomplished with just three little leaky boats. I say, why tear down or repurpose a statue? Build another statue.”

The vandalism of the Columbus monument came one week after the Pugh administration removed four monuments associated with the Confederacy: a statue of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate Women’s Monument, the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument and a statue of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery. In Annapolis, state officials followed suit and removed a Taney statue there.

Columbus was an Italian explorer who in 1492 landed on an island in the Bahamas. He later explored other Caribbean islands and Central America, but never reached the land today known as the United States of America. Those opposed to his honorifics accuse him of initiating the transatlantic slave trade and committing violence against people native to the lands he explored.

In 2016, the Baltimore City Council narrowly voted down an attempt to strip Columbus of his holiday within the city limits. A bill sponsored by Councilman Brandon Scott to rename the day for indigenous people and Italian-Americans needed eight votes to pass, but the final tally was 7-6 with two members abstaining.

Italian-American heritage groups lobbied council members heavily to maintain the observance as Columbus Day, arguing that it was less about the Italian explorer and more about an opportunity to honor their heritage.

The Census Bureau has estimated 16,500 city residents are of Italian-American descent. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — who is the daughter of D'Alesandro, Baltimore's first Italian-American mayor — grew up in Little Italy.

The obelisk in an area of Herring Run Park known as Heinz Park is not the only monument to Columbus in Baltimore. A statue of Columbus was installed in 1892 in Druid Hill Park, and one in Harbor East was dedicated by President Ronald Reagan in 1984.

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