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Arts and Culture

Protesters continue demand to remove Columbus statue in Syracuse, Walsh not ready to remove it

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
A statue of Christopher Columbus in downtown Syracuse.

Protesters are continuing their demand for the removal of a statue of Christopher Columbus in downtown Syracuse. More than 12,000 people have signed an online petition to remove it.

The organizer of the petition calls it a symbol of Indigenous genocide and removing it will “send a message that Syracuse rejects racism, past and present.” The renewed call to bring down the statue of the Italian explorer comes as Black Lives Matter protests continue, and Confederate and Columbus statues are removed in other cities across the country.    

Sarah Nahar of Syracuse spoke at a rally earlier this month about connecting black and native struggles for justice. When it comes to the Columbus statue, she said she wants to see a reconciling with history.

“That statue went up in 1933 at a time when the Italian community was impacted by the white Protestant community,” Nahar said. “We have to deal with and treat the trauma that has come through all of these streams. We want the Italian community to know that we love them and we also want to have a symbol that represents all of us.” 

Nahar suggests the Great Peacemaker, the founder of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy.

"What an amazing symbol it would be!” Nahar said. “We could be a leader in the country, to have a statue of a peacemaker."

She signed on to a letter sent to Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh that requests Indigenous and Black people form a coalition to rename and repurpose Columbus Circle with a space that would honor and recognize it as Onondaga land. On Thursday, Walsh met with those who want to remove the statue. He said he shares their concern about the message it sends to Indigenous people. But at this point, he said he’s not willing to make the commitment to remove it.

“We’ve identified a good action item from that process, which is to develop a new public space that better educates the people in this community on the history of our city and our country and the role Christopher Columbus and others played in it,” Walsh said.

The immediate removal of the statue, he said, could further divide the community.

"Whatever happens next needs to be steps forward on the path towards healing," Walsh said.

There’s no timeframe yet on when a redevelopment would take place, but Walsh said it will include input from the Indigenous, Black and Italian communities. A rally to remove the statue is being planned for Saturday.