Protesters toppled a statue of Christopher Columbus in the US on Tuesday as American and European cities dismantled several monuments associated with the Confederacy, colonialism and slavery.
A statue of Columbus in Richmond, Virginia, was toppled, set on fire and then thrown into a lake, news outlets reported.
Once revered for his explorations, Columbus and his role as an agent of colonialism and genocide have raised increasingly uncomfortable questions, leading to a growing movement by Native Americans and others to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Historians say that Columbus helped spur centuries of genocide against indigenous populations in the Americas.
After the figure was removed from its pedestal by protesters using several ropes, a sign that reads, “Columbus represents genocide” was placed on the spray-painted foundation that once held the statue. It was then set on fire and rolled into a lake in the park, NBC 12 reported.
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The city’s parks department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the fallen statue from the Associated Press.
Earlier during the day, activist Chelsea Higgs-Wise and other protesters spoke to a crowd gathered at Byrd Park about the struggles of indigenous people and African-Americans in America. “We have to start where it all began,” Higgs-Wise said during her speech. “We have to start with the people who stood first on this land.”
The Columbus statue was dedicated in Richmond in December 1927, and had been the first statue of Christopher Columbus erected in the South, the newspaper reported.
Its toppling comes amid national protests over the death of George Floyd and several days after a statue of Confederate Gen. Williams Carter Wickham was pulled from its pedestal in Monroe Park by demonstrators who also used ropes to tear it down.
Confederate monuments around the country have fallen in recent years amid contentious debate over whether they are proud monuments to Southern heritage or hated symbols of racism and past slavery, but the debate has escalated anew in the nationwide protests over police misconduct and racism.
Also Tuesday, a majority-black county known as a birthplace of African American empowerment said it is covering up a Confederate memorial erected more than a century ago and looking for ways to remove it permanently.
Workers used a tarpaulin and ropes to cover up the square base of a 111-year-old statue because it was recently spray painted with obscenities, Macon County Commission Chairman Louis Maxwell said in an interview. Unable to do more because of high winds, crews will look at covering the statue itself later, he said.
The east Alabama county, which is more than 80% black, also is researching what will be needed to remove the statue from its base and relocate it elsewhere, perhaps to a nearby heritage museum, Maxwell said.
“It’s part of the history of the county whether you like it or not, and we want to preserve it,” Maxwell said.
Officials elsewhere also are trying to take down Old South monuments, most of which went up with Confederate descendants were trying to both honor their relatives and perpetuate the “lost cause” myth that the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery.
A statue of a Confederate soldier was removed from a park in Jacksonville, Florida, early Tuesday, but a judge temporarily blocked Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration from removing a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond.
The Alabama coastal city of Mobile took down a statue of a Confederate naval officer this week, but isn’t ruling out the possibility that it might be returned to the same spot.
In Tennessee, Republican lawmakers are resisting calls to remove a bust from the Capitol of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general who became an early leader in the Ku Klux Klan. The state also has a day in Forrest’s honor.
The removals aren’t isolated to the South. In Indiana, a monument dedicated to Confederate soldiers who died at a Union prison camp in Indianapolis was dismantled on Monday.
In addition, statues commemorating European countries’ colonial and slaver histories have also been targeted in recent days, with a slave trader monument taken down by authorities in London, and another pulled down and rolled into a dock by demonstrators in the port city of Bristol.
Tonight, we have removed the statue of slave trader Robert Milligan that previously stood at West India Quay. We have also announced a review into monuments and other sites in our borough to understand how we should represent the more troubling periods in our history. pic.twitter.com/Thfz3UHU96
— Tower Hamlets Council (@TowerHamletsNow) June 9, 2020
In Antwerp, authorities used a crane on Tuesday to remove a statue of Belgium’s former King Leopold II that had been splattered with red paint by protesters, taking it away for repairs. It was unclear whether it would be re-erected.
Leopold took control of Congo in 1885 and enslaved much of its people to collect rubber, reigning over a brutal regime under which some 10 million Congolese died.
#Antwerp authorities have removed a statue of colonial Belgian King Leopold II after the weekend’s #BlackLivesMatter protest. The campaign to remove all of them continues. #DRC #KingLeopoldII #Belgium pic.twitter.com/7Io5uAfcMK
— Jack Parrock (@jackeparrock) June 9, 2020