Monuments

Wednesday nights TV news reported on the toppling of a statue of Christopher Columbus on the Minnesota State Capitol grounds. Yesterday, I went over to see for myself.  I didn’t even know the statue existed, and after inquiry finally found the site, directly across Cedar St from the present Judicial Center, which years ago was what I remember as the Minnesota Historical Society.

On the pedestal where Columbus had stood since 1931, sat  a man.  I asked if he minded if I took a photo.   He said “thank you for asking”.  Our conversation was very brief and low key.  As I recall, he said he was a sculptor himself, and damaging works of art bothered him  He pointed out where the statue had fallen, about where I was standing.  I didn’t ask, and he didn’t offer, his name.

At the Columbus statue, State Capitol grounds, June 11, 2020 photo by Dick Bernard

The gentleman and I didn’t engage in much conversation.  He was reflecting; so was I.  I left him to his quiet, and continued with mine.  I looked back; somebody else had stopped by.

Monuments, especially Confederate, and those of people like Columbus, revered as discoverers and conquerors, come with a very dark side.

Eugene Robinson in today’s Washington Post wrote a very perceptive piece on the post-Civil War monuments now under attack.  You can read it here.

I have known for many years the destruction that my people inflicted on the Natives of America, of whom Christopher Columbus was one of the first.  When I define racism, it starts with the treatment of the Native Americans of my home state of North Dakota. Race, a personal view

25 years ago, in May, 1990, I attended a Pow Wow sponsored by the Heart of the Earth school in Minneapolis.  In the program was a one page commentary on the Native feeling at the time.  You can read it here: 500 years after Columbus001 (click to enlarge).  I offer it to help start a conversation.  (Heart of the Earth Survival School, referred to in the article, ended due to serious legal issues in 2008.  You can read about that here.)

I really don’t know the feelings of the man seated where Columbus stood yesterday.  We are all faced with an opportunity to confront our entire history in the coming days.  Personally, I think this is a very good thing, a learning opportunity.

Christopher Columbus, near the State Capitol, St. Paul.  Photo 2001 Joe Hoover.  This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

Christopher Columbus statue site June 11, 2020

Christopher Columbus pedestal July 1, 2020, MN State capitol is a short block to the right (off the picture). Cathedral of St. Paul in background.

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