Committee formed by Mayor Lightfoot recommends Chicago Columbus statues not return

ByWill Jones, Eric Horng, and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team via WLS logo
Saturday, August 20, 2022
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Mayor Lori Lightfoot's committee recommended Chicago's Christopher Columbus statues not return to their old spots in Grant Park and Little Italy.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A committee formed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to review Chicago's monument issued its report Friday, recommending that two statues of Christopher Columbus should not be returned and that they should be replaced with new monuments.

The statues were removed in July 2020, following protests grew out of the national outcry and protests over the murder of George Floyd and fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor.

The Grant Park statue was the focus of a protest that turned into a violent clash between Chicago police and protesters after protesters tried to tear it down.

RELATED: Chicago Christopher Columbus statues in Grant Park, Little Italy removed by city

The 70-plus page report recommends the statues be permanently removed, saying, "the image of Columbus has become a bitter reminder of centuries of exploitation, conquest and genocide."

"It's a wonderful example of our need to really to tell the true history of the United States, especially regarding the American Indians," said Dorene Wiese, president of the American Indian Association of Illinois.

But Italian American groups who opposed the removal of the statues object to the report's recommendations.

"This is all about erasing history, redefining history, and who's to say what history should be erased or not," said Ronald Onesti, Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans. "We understand that other stories need to be told. We welcome all ethnic groups who want to be a part of telling that story. But just don't tear our history down and take away something we believe in."

"I think the effort was not at all to insult Italian people. It was to indeed to expose the truth about Columbus," Wiese said.

The commission also called for the removal or alteration of 41 other monuments and memorials, including some thy said are offensive to American Indians, such as monuments honoring Jacques Marquette Louis Joliet and General Philip Henry Sheridan.

WATCH: Crews remove Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park

The Chicago Monuments Project (CMP) Advisory Committee began its work in the fall of 2020 and conducted research and outreach in 2021 before compiling and analyzing feedback in 2022.

Their report said, "The recommendations overwhelming conveyed the public's desire for the creation of new monuments that memorialized Chicago's true and complete history."

In addition to taking down statues and memorials, the commission offered support for putting up new ones to honor gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, Chicago's Latino community, and a memorial for gun violence victims.

"There are many more steps that will be taken on this long journey toward reckoning, understanding, and healing and I look forward to more dialogue, public engagement and the path forward," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events will support creating eight new works with a $50,000 planning grant.

The project awarded with grants are:

-The Greater Chatham Initiative for a Mahalia Jackson memorial

-Artists and community groups for a monument to historic events and people that have shaped the Latina/x experience in the Pilsen neighborhood

-The Mother Jones Heritage Project

-Community organizations working to create a monument to honor Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable and Kitihawa, his wife and a local Potawatomi woman

-Artist Patricia Nguyen and architectural designer John Lee for the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial concept

-The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 Commemoration Project

-A Long Walk Home, for its "Visibility Project" proposal centering on Black women and girls

-A community-led monument to victims of gun violence in Chicago

READ MORE: Mayor Lightfoot sued by lawyer claiming he was berated with vulgar language over Columbus statue

CMP co-chairs Mark Kelly and Bonnie McDonald said in a statement, "As Co-chairs, we proudly submit our report for consideration. The committee recommends interventions, ongoing program investments, funding of new public art projects and the development of curriculum and engagement programs for youth, teachers and docents. We believe the report's ideas and recommendations will strengthen our City as our public art collection becomes more honest about our history and far more inclusive regarding who is represented and what stories are told. To our knowledge, we had one of the most engaging processes among many cities also grappling with the topic of their problematic monuments. We wish to thank and acknowledge the work of the committee members in doing so; this was a labor of love on the part of our community and is proof of what is possible when we listen to each other."

Mayor Lori Lightfoot released a statement, saying:

"The release of the final report from the Chicago Monuments Project Advisory Committee marks an important milestone in our city-wide journey in addressing our past so that we can move forward together toward a more equitable and inclusive future.I thank the members of the committee for their time, and commitment to this important work on behalf of our City, the extensive and creative public engagement and their willingness to engage in this work in a thorough and thoughtful way.While the scope of this work impacts us all, I want to particularly highlight and thank members of the Italian American and the Native communities for their engagement and participation in this process. I have personally learned a lot from my engagement with members of both communities.What is clear is the history of both communities is intrinsic to our shared Chicago history and the stories of both communities in all of the nuances needs to be told, known and respected by every Chicagoan. We need to create more opportunities for bridge building which will be to the benefit of us all.There are many more steps that will be taken on this long journey toward reckoning, understanding, and healing and I look forward to more dialogue, public engagement and the path forward."

To read the full report, visit ChicagoMonuments.org.