ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) – The statue of Christopher Columbus was taken down in Tower Grove Park Tuesday after years of controversy.
The statue used to be the first thing you saw when you entered the park. It stood in the park for over 140 years.
Officials with the Tower Grove Park board posted the following statement to their Facebook page Tuesday morning as the statue was being removed:
"Tower Grove Park celebrates the diversity of our community every day and serves as the centerpiece of the region’s most vibrant neighborhoods. When a statue of Christopher Columbus was placed in the park 140 years ago, its purpose was to celebrate the contributions of immigrants in this region. But now, for many, it symbolizes a historical disregard for indigenous peoples and cultures and destruction of their communities.
In order to ensure a safe, inclusive and pleasant environment for park visitors and team members alike, the Park’s Board of Commissioners has authorized the removal of the Columbus statue to begin the week of June 15. By taking this action, Tower Grove Park reaffirms its commitment to being a place of welcome, and to caring for the people’s park in the best way possible."
The statue’s removal comes during a growing push across the country to take down controversial statues, including Christopher Columbus. In some states, statues of the European explorer have been torn down, beheaded and dumped into water.
Historical records reveal Columbus forced many natives to be slaves. According to History.com, Columbus treated them with 'extreme violence and brutality,' a far cry from the story many learned growing up of the Italian explorer who became a hero after discovering America in 1492.
“He’s not the person that we thought he was or that we were taught he was. Maybe the history has been out there all along but our educational system prioritizes the stories that benefit those in charge," said Mary Schum, who supports removing the Christopher Columbus statue in Tower Grover Park.
Last week, a petition had over 1,000 signatures to remove the statue that sat at the entrance of Tower Grove Park near Grand Avenue.
There have been calls to remove the statue for years. Last year, the park's board announced the statue would stay and said it would post signs “with important historical context about Columbus and the history of the park’s land.”
Tempers flared this morning after a crew with a crane removed the 140-year old statue. Nick Gartelos was one of those people who was saying it was wrong to take down a statue that was a source of national pride for Italian-Americans.
"This, in and of itself may be innocuous and completely harmless, but now where do we draw the line," said Gartelos.
One person at the park, who asked to not be identified, said he thinks the statue represents our country's history and supports leaving it in Tower Grove Park.
Before the statue’s removal, the park's executive director told News 4:
"Tower Grove Park is a place of inclusion and diversity. All three statues in the park were placed there approximately 140 years ago to celebrate the contributions of immigrants to this region."
"He wasn’t even the first person to land here so I don’t really understand putting him on a statue in the first place so if it offends people, yeah, just get rid of it," said Josey Rodrigquez, who signed the petition to remove the statue.
"I think it's great. I think if a lot of people took note and quit glorifying any historian of genocide. I think that would be a move in the right path," said Pat Davis.
A protest was planned for June 23rd at Piper Palm House where the Tower Grove Park Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet.
The statue has been a controversial one for years in St. Louis and was vandalized in 2016 on Columbus Day. The same thing happened in 2017 when someone spray-painted "murder" and "Black Lives Matter" on the statue.
"We Italians are just tired of it," a protester said at the time. "There's no reason to be rude, disgraceful, or even just ... Horrible. There''s just no reason for it."
People gathered around the statue in 2018 on Columbus Day and demanded its removal because of his treatment to indigenous people. In October, 2019, Tower Grove Park's board decided to keep the statue until the decision was reversed on June 16, 2020 after the death of George Floyd.
Other members of the Italian community were upset after its removal on Tuesday.
"I'm very saddened, I'm sure, as most Italian Americans," Rio Vitale said.
Vitale says the statue went up 140 years ago in reaction to discrimination against Italian immigrants.
"Now with that said in today's times, I think it's an appropriate thing to take the statue down. But that doesn't make me happy," Vitale said.
Two years ago, the Tower Grove Park Board formed an advisory task force to study the statue's future.
The board released a statement saying: "When a statue of Christopher Columbus was placed in the park 140 years ago, its purpose was to celebrate the contributions of immigrants in this region. But now, for many, it symbolizes a historical disregard for indigenous peoples and cultures and destruction of their communities.In order to ensure a safe, inclusive and pleasant environment for park visitors and team members alike, the park’s board of commissioners has authorized the removal of the Columbus statue to begin the week of June 15."