Syracuse's Columbus statue to come down; Columbus Circle to be renamed

Oct 9, 2020

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh announced Friday plans to remove the statue of Christopher Columbus in downtown Syracuse and rename Columbus Circle. The statue, along with the heads of Indigenous peoples of the Plains, which lay at the bottom of the statue, will be moved to a private site, which has not yet been selected.

Walsh said Columbus Circle will also be renamed. The fountain and obelisk monument at the center of the Circle will remain as a memorial to the Italian American community. Historical information about the impacts of colonialism will also be added to the site, and will also recognize the Onondaga Nation.

"This space should be both a tribute to Italian Americans and a place of healing at which we celebrate our shared accomplishments,” said Walsh in a statement. "This decision is based on the fact that we can honor our Italian American community without focusing on a statue that has become the source of division over decades and overshadowed the original intent of the monument."

The statue has been the source of controversy for decades. Native Americans and advocates have long said the statue is a symbol of the genocide of Indigenous people. Italian Americans have said their history in Syracuse is exemplified by the statue.

In a statement, the Columbus Monument Organization said they would seek legal action to stop the statue's removal. 

"We are deeply disappointed in the lack of respect that Mayor Walsh has shown for the Italian American community and other supporters of the Columbus Monument," a statement from the organization said. "We fully intend to pursue every legal recourse to stop the monument from being removed. The timing of this announcement shows the deep lack of decency and respect to the Italian community and those that support the monument."

Michael Vavonese, the organization's former president and member of the Columbus Circle Action Group, said Friday the decision was based on politics. 

"I really think it was a rush, for political expediency and it controverts the mission of dozens of cities in the United States that still have a Columbus monument standing, and the hundreds across the world, including in San Salvador, where conduct that is complained of supposedly happened 500 years ago," Vavonese said.

The statue was built in 1934, after Italian Americans in the city raised the money to build it.

Walsh formed the Columbus Circle Action Committee in June to make recommendations on what to do with the site. The group issued it's final report Friday. Removing the statue and redesigning the existing monument will be paid for with a mix of public and private funds, Walsh said.

A commission will be appointed to draft changes that will be made at the Circle, including the new name of the site. It's expected to take several months before any decisions are made.