Diocesan News

Italian-Americans’ Plea: Don’t Tear Down Columbus Statues

Leaders to Fight Attack on ‘Western Culture’ Amid New Calls for Removal

WINDSOR TERRACE — The nationwide movement by protesters to tear down statues of Christopher Columbus is misguided and flat-out wrong, according to Italian-American leaders, who said demonstrators should not lump in the explorer with other targets of their wrath in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

“We will fight this tooth and nail,” said Carlo Scissura, chairman of the Federation of Italian-American Organizations of Brooklyn. “Christopher Columbus represents part of Italian-Americans’ national pride. He is part of the success story of Italian-Americans.”

A statue of Christopher Columbus stands in the plaza outside the New York State Supreme Court building in downtown Brooklyn. (File Photo)

Members of the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic service organization named in honor of Christopher Columbus, are puzzled and angry over the controversy.

“I stand by Columbus,” said Lou Marra, a knight at the Samuel Cardinal Stritch Council of the Knights of Columbus in Gravesend.

Protesters are ignoring the contributions the explorer made, Marra said.

“He created the world we know now,” he told The Tablet.

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, an African-American man killed in police custody in Minneapolis last month, hundreds of protests erupted in cities across the nation, spawning a movement to topple Confederate statues and other symbols associated with slavery.

The movement has now expanded to include Christopher Columbus. Proponents of tearing down statues of Columbus claim that he tormented and enslaved indigenous people while colonizing the New World and should not be celebrated by history.

Earlier this month, the Columbus statue-dumping effort appeared to be gaining some momentum. There were three recent incidents across the country in which Columbus statues were targeted — one was pulled to the ground, one was beheaded, and another thrown into a lake.

The Richmond Indigenous Society of Richmond, Virginia, sent out a tweet prior to a protest demonstration in that city earlier this month calling Columbus “a murderer of Indigenous people.”

Any effort to topple Columbus statues here in New York will be met with fierce opposition, Scissura told The Tablet.

“We are still the largest ethnic group in the state, and we will make our voices heard,” he said.

Andre DiMino, leader of the Italian-American One Voice Coalition, says that the protesters are operating on misinformation.

“They have twisted the facts to attack Columbus and western culture,” he told Currents News.

Seeing video footage of statues being torn down by protesters is “just horrible and heart-wrenching,” DiMino added.

Perhaps the most famous Columbus statue in New York City is the one that towers over Columbus Circle in Manhattan. Scissura isn’t worried about that statue, which he believes is likely under the protected radar of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The Columbus Circle statue came under scrutiny in 2017, when Mayor Bill de Blasio created the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers to look at whether controversial monuments should be kept or demolished.

The panel, which included architects, educators, and historians among its members, recommended in its January 2018 report to the mayor that the Columbus Circle statue remain intact.

But Scissura expressed concern over another Columbus statue — the one standing outside the New York State Supreme Court in downtown Brooklyn.

“We have to be vigilant,” he said.

Members of the Knights of Columbus are growing increasingly outraged by ongoing efforts to slam the explorer.

“We view this as a Catholic issue as much as an Italian-American issue,” said Carmine Musumeci, a member of the National Board of Directors of the Knights of Columbus. “He was not a conqueror. He was an explorer.”

The Knights are willing, however, “to have a discourse about this,” according to Musumeci, and the organization is also willing to testify at public hearings.

“There are a lot of lies and stories about Columbus, all of which are unfounded by history,” he told The Tablet. “We need to re-educate the public.”

Marra said people should not erase history, but learn from it.

“It’s not fair to judge somebody 500 years ago by the standards of today,” he said. “History has provided us with the time to evolve.”

3 thoughts on “Italian-Americans’ Plea: Don’t Tear Down Columbus Statues

  1. What bothers me the most about removing the Columbus statue in Columbus is the city choosing not to consult the Italian groups in the city. There is only one holiday to celebrate Italian heritage and this too is being removed. The city should work with Americans of Italian decent to celebrate Italian Heritage just as it does Pride and Black And Hispanic heritage. How about an exhibit at the Veterens Memoral celebrating the 1.5 million American Italians who fought in WWII? Or how about Italian week with banners like many other groups receive?

  2. Although an Italian, Columbus operated under the auspices of The King and Queen of Spain.
    As Hispanics are considered “Persons of Color” how do protesters reconcile that Columbus was an ancestor of theirs?


    I call on all good Catholics in New York to adamantly oppose the plan to erect a statue of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in any public place. Not to dismiss or disregard the good works accomplished by the revered saint, patron of immigrants, but rather out of the utmost respect for Mother Cabrini considering this city’s and state’s current political atmosphere, in order to spare her image the almost inevitable dignity of being protested or even worse, with the acquiescence and possibly the approbation of certain social and political elements, doused with a bucket of red paint.

    Given the recent toppling of statues of St. JunÍpero Serra in the West Coast’s political climate, is it really out of bounds to suggest that next on the radical agenda would be for any municipality or county in California from Sacramento to San Francisco to Los Angeles to San Diego and all in between and beyond, whether directly founded by the denounced friar or not, be stripped of its colonial associations and renamed in favor of politically correct secular icons?

    What may be the future of such as Santa Fe in New Mexico, San Antonio and Corpus Christi in Texas, St. Louis in Missouri, St. Augustine in Florida, or the little town of Bethlehem in Pennsylvania — all tainted with Eurocentric Christianity. Will anything or anyone survive this “Culture Revolution?”

    Wise men have noted that History is written by the victors.