City Leaders Mull Damaged Columbus Obelisk’s Fate, and Activists Resume Columbus Day Renaming Campaign

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Baltimore’s mayor and one city councilman are separately trying to sort out how to proceed with the damaged monument to explorer Christopher Columbus in Northeast Baltimore.

The Sun reported Friday that Councilman Ryan Dorsey, whose district holds the vandalized Herring Run Park obelisk, has been surveying his constituents to what they would like to be installed there in place of the monument dedicated to Columbus. It’s the oldest existing one in the country, having been placed in Baltimore in 1792 and moved to Herring Run Park in 1964, according to the Monument City Blog.

Dorsey initiated the survey a little over a week ago. “There’s a diversity of opinions,” he said to The Sun about the responses he’s received. “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.”

Mayor Catherine Pugh may have different plans. WBAL-TV’s Kata Amara reported this afternoon that Pugh’s office has directed the Commission on Historic and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) to “lead a city-wide effort to restore and rededicate” the monument. Ideas she mentioned include adding a line to the plaque about a pending rededication in 2018, and possibly rededicating it to Native Americans.

Neither CHAP nor Pugh’s chief spokesman have responded to requests for comment from Baltimore Fishbowl.

In August, an activist who identified himself as “Ty” destroyed the plaque beneath the 44-foot-tall obelisk off of Harford Road using a sledgehammer. In a video, a person with him held a sign that read, “Racism, tear it down”; another sign placed near the monument said “The future is racial and economic justice.”

“Ty” was referring to Columbus’ controversial legacy of kicking off a storm of mass genocide directed at Native Americans when he “discovered” North America in 1492. “

“Christopher Columbus symbolizes the initial invasion of European capitalism into the Western Hemisphere,” he narrated in the August video. “Columbus initiated a centuries-old wave of terrorism, murder, genocide, rape, slavery, ecological degradation and capitalist exploitation of labor in the Americas. That Columbian wave of destruction continues on the backs of indigenous, African-American and brown people.”

Local American Indians and activists mounted a campaign last year to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ and Italian-Americans’ Day. The bill, sponsored by Councilman Brandon Scott, seemed headed for success in November, but fell just short of the number of necessary votes in the end.

Baltimore’s Italian-Americans have defended the explorer’s legacy. Columbus worked for the Spanish but hailed from Italy, and remains a prominent figure in Italian-American culture. Baltimore notably has two other monuments to Columbus in Druid Hill Park and Little Italy, and holds a Columbus Day parade every year.

Of course, the Baltimore area also has a significant, if diasporic Native American community, many of them widely ignored by their own policymakers and local governments.

Activists haven’t let up on their mission to rename Columbus Day. A new petition circulated by the Baltimore American Indian Center and Native American Lifelines calls for the council to again consider renaming the federal holiday in Natives’ honor.

The petition concludes, “Baltimore has another opportunity to demonstrate its place in American politics and history as a progressive city by changing the name of holiday that celebrates a purveyor of genocide, to a holiday that celebrate the Native American citizens who call Baltimore home.”



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