CHICAGO (CBS) — Instead of removing statues of Christopher Columbus that have been vandalized since the murder or George Floyd, Mayor Lori Lightfoot suggested the controversy over Columbus’ legacy should be used “as an opportunity to not try to erase history, but embrace it full on.”
Statues of Columbus in Little Italy and Grant Park recently have been hit with spray paint of terms like “BLM” and “genocide,” while Columbus statues in other cities have been toppled, and even beheaded. Activists have condemned the Italian explorer’s treatment of indigenous people after his arrival in the West Indes.
Asked Thursday if the city and the Chicago Park District should take down statues of Columbus, the mayor said the controversy should instead be used to teach young people about the nation’s full history.
“I have been watching with great interest on the debate that’s been going on around Confederate monuments, and there was a black historian – and I don’t remember his name – but he said, and I think he’s right, that we can use this moment as an opportunity to not try to erase history, but embrace it full on,” she said. “There was a lot of harm that happened over the arc of the history of this country, beginning with the original sin of slavery, and it’s way past time that we have a reckoning on that. But I think we also have to recognize that our history, both in this country and our city, is rich and diverse and the thing that we need to do is do what I think the organizers of the Columbus Day Parade have done, which is invite many people of different backgrounds, different perspectives, to participate in what is really a people’s celebration.”
Earlier this year, Lightfoot opposed plans by some aldermen to change the Columbus Day holiday in Chicago to Indigenous People’s Day, just days after the Chicago Board of Education voted to make the change to Chicago Public Schools’ calendars.
The mayor said it’s time for elected leaders to try to unite people, because there are “too many divisive moments” in the current political environment.
“We’re not always going to agree on every issue, and I know that Columbus, in his legacy, is a flashpoint for many, but I think, again, we need to use this moment as an opportunity to find our common ground, as people,” she said. “That’s what we should be doing in Chicago, is to unify, not divide,” she said. “Let’s have honest hard conversations about the real truths of our history, but let’s do it in a way that provides people with an opportunity to speak their truth; to recognize the hurt and the pain that so many have suffered for way too long. I think that’s what this moment demands, and I know that the leaders who are here with me today believe the same thing. Let’s create dialogue. Let’s start healing and unifying.”