Lawmakers Announce Plans to Remove Columbus Statue in California Capitol

A statue of Christopther Columbus and Queen Isabella in the California Capitol. (Carole J. Buckwalter/Wikipedia via Courthouse News)

(CN) — A statue of Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain will be removed from the California Capitol rotunda, Democratic lawmakers in the state announced Tuesday. 

Many have argued for years that the statue should be replaced, noting Columbus’ enslavement and brutalization of native peoples. But the decision comes as citizens across the country are demanding with a heightened fervor, following the death of George Floyd, the removal of statues depicting figures perceived as racist, including memorials to the Confederacy. 

California Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and Assembly Rules Committee Chair Ken Cooley announced the planned removal of the statue, titled “Columbus’ Last Appeal to Queen Isabella.”

“Christopher Columbus is a deeply polarizing historical figure given the deadly impact his arrival in this hemisphere had on indigenous populations,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement. “The continued presence of this statue in California’s Capitol, where it has been since 1883, is completely out of place today. It will be removed.”

The lawmakers did not provide a date for the removal. 

The statue was gifted to the state by Darius Ogden Mills, who wrote in a letter read at its dedication that the rotunda was “an appropriate place for a work of art commemorating an event that had so great an influence on the destinies of the western world,” according to the California State Capitol Museum’s website. 

In the 1970s, before its restoration, the Native Sons of the Golden West and others suggested the legislature replace the statue with one of an important Californian, noting that Columbus never came anywhere near California. Native Americans and Latino groups, according to the museum, also argued against the return of the statue after its restoration. 

Columbus statues across the country have been taken down in recent days, by both official and non-official means. Last week, protesters in Richmond, Virginia, used ropes to pull down an 8-foot Columbus statue and dumped it into a lake, and in Boston, not for the first time, the Columbus statue lost its head. 

A Columbus statue erected 140 years ago was also taken off its pedestal in a park in St. Louis Tuesday. 

“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,” the Tower Grove Park commissioners said in a statement. “But now, for many, it symbolizes a historical disregard for indigenous peoples and cultures and the destruction of their communities.”

On Monday, a statue of John Sutter — a colonizer of California in the 1800s who enslaved and killed Native Americans — was removed from a hospital named after him in Sacramento, California. 

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