PITTSBURGH — The Christopher Columbus statue in Schenley Park has been covered up after Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s Friday recommendation that it be removed -- weeks after the Pittsburgh Art Commission voted in favor of it as well.
According to a news release Friday, Peduto instead directed that the statue be “displayed in a private location still to be determined." He said removing the statue is justified, and that it can be better displayed in a private location that places Columbus, his memory and his history in a different context.
The Art Commission will vote on the mayor’s recommendation one more time before it can become official.
Peduto issued a letter to the commission regarding the decision, which reads, in part:
“All four of my grandparents were Italian and personally experienced discrimination, yet learned to love their new country. I am tremendously proud to be part of the Italian-American community in Pittsburgh, just as I am proud to be Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh and to represent all people of our city. After much thought and prayer I believe it is now time for us to return the Columbus statue to the Italian-American community that brought it into existence. They can preserve it in a manner than celebrates Italian-American culture, while acknowledging the wreckage that slavery and racism has done to America.”
The commission’s unanimous vote on Sept. 23 came following a special hearing and public comment period.
The fate of the statue has been the topic of fierce debate for some time. Some people said it’s part of our history and needs to stay. Others said it glorifies a man who colonized with little regard for human life and who enslaved, murdered and fueled the fires of hate, which can no longer stand today.
“I think that Christopher Columbus does not uphold the values of our Constitution, who we are, and who we are as Americans and as human beings,” said Kilolo Luckett.
Calls to remove the statue grew over the summer amid nationwide protests. It has been vandalized at least two times.
Immediately following the commission’s vote in September, the mayor told Channel 11 that as an Italian-American, he was torn.
“My grandfather came from Italy and raised me. He views Christopher Columbus as a hero. As an explorer. Not as a conqueror,” Peduto said. “(But) I can’t simply have my view as the ruling view. I will take the Art Commission viewpoint into consideration.”
The commission recommended moving the statue to a museum and possibly replacing it with an Italian American icon from Pittsburgh.
In 2018, the same commission voted to remove the Stephen Foster statue in Oakland. The memorial to the composer, a Lawrenceville native, was criticized because an African American man sat at his feet.
Still, some local groups are making every effort to save the Columbus statue.
“I think if you would go back in history, there’s many people who have done things who have statues. And they weren’t the greatest things in the world they did, but it was history and I can’t see taking history out of the equation," said Gino Mahofski, a member of the Pittsburgh chapter of Italian Sons and Daughters of America.
ISDA said the statue is a symbol for their culture and pride in Pittsburgh, so it should stay where it is.
© 2020 Cox Media Group