Chicago Christopher Columbus statues in Grant Park, Little Italy removed by city; some aldermen blindsided, others applauding decision

Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered the removal overnight

ByJessica D'Onofrio, Craig Wall, and Alexis McAdams WLS logo
Saturday, July 25, 2020
Christopher Columbus statues removed from Grant Park, LIttle Italy
Chicago's two Christopher Columbus statues were taken down overnight, leaving opinion sharply divided among residents. THe mayor said they were removed for public safety reasons.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Christopher Columbus statues in Grant Park and Little Italy were removed Friday morning.

The Grant Park statue started to come down at around 3:15 a.m. After that, it didn't take long to remove it completely.

A crane had been stationed near the statue for hours, near Columbus and Roosevelt, before it was carefully removed. It was loaded onto a truck and taken to an unknown location.

WATCH: Crews remove Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park

Crews remove a statue of Christopher Columbus in Grant Park Friday morning.

The Christopher Columbus statue had been covered in tarp and protected by a ring of protective fencing. A police presence remained there Friday morning.

Later Friday morning, around 5:30 a.m., the Columbus statue in Arrigo Park in Little Italy was also taken down.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said removing the Christopher Columbus statues from Grant Park and Little Italy were a matter of public safety.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office released a statement saying, "The Christopher Columbus statues in Grant Park and Arrigo Park were temporarily removed by City and Park District crews under advisement from statue erectors and restoration professionals. Both statues were relocated to a storage facility in Chicago. As previously stated, the statues were relocated in response to demonstrations that became unsafe for both protesters and police, as well as efforts by individuals to independently pull the Grant Park statue down in an extremely dangerous manner.

"To ensure a safe process for residents to express their support or concerns over any of Chicago's monuments, memorials, and murals, the City will be announcing a formal framework to assess statues in partnership with our local communities."

Lightfoot's office said they will be announcing a formal process to evaluate each monument, memorial and mural across Chicago.

"As the Mayor has stated previously, this is not about a single statue or mural, but how we create a platform to channel our city's dynamic civic energy to collaboratively, purposefully and peacefully reflect our values as Chicagoans and uplift the stories of all of our diverse city's residents, particularly when it comes to the permanent memorialization of our shared heritage," the statement continued.

The mayor only alerted a handful of Italian American leaders Thursday night.

"We were conversing back and forth with her chief of staff and her, and we decided it was best for the safety of the city, the police officers that were like, OK, it's going to be temporarily. We're fine with it," said 38th Ward Alderman Nicholas Sposato.

Some have called the decision surreal and shocking, while others applauded it.

"It's a good move; it's a good look for the city. It seems as if we are making progress. It seems as if we are getting to the place where there can be some healing," Ephraim Martin said.

The move is being compared to Mayor Richard M. Daley's middle-of-the-night destruction of Meigs Field. The runway was later converted to a lakefront park.

And similarly, some aldermen say they were blindsided by the mayor's decision, while others praised the action.

WATCH: Chicago aldermen react to Mayor Lightfoot's decision

Christopher Columbus statues in Grant Park and Little Italy were removed Friday morning.

Some aldermen were frustrated by Lightfoot's approach, not consulting any members of the City Council and having the statues removed under the cover of darkness.

"She made a decision on her own, and I think in large part based on the fact that she kept being protested and harassed in her own home because of it, you know; this was not an open process," Ald. Ray Lopez said.

Some accused Lightfoot of capitulating to the protesters' demands.

"It should be done as a discussion, it should be done as a debate, and afterwards City Council should make a decision or even take it to the courts, but you don't just go on the middle of night, and tear down a statue and celebrate this socialist cancel culture. I'm tired of it. I think everyone's tired of it right now," Ald. Anthony Napolitano said.

WATCH: Political analyst Laura Washington speaks on Mayor Lightfoot's decision to remove statues

ABC7 Political Analyst Laura Washington talks about Chicago removing Christopher Columbus statues from Grant Park and Little Italy Friday morning.

A number of socialists on the city council, who supported the protests and the decision to remove the statues, applauded the decision and said they hope the removal is permanent because they believe what the statues represented is not worth celebrating.

"I think we need to make sure that we are very intentional about who you choose; we choose to honor in our city, and I don't think Christopher Columbus was a figure worth honoring," Ald. Rosanna Rodriguez Sanchez said.

"I do not want to see, and I know that Chicagoans that I've spoken with do not want to see those statues placed back in a place of honor," said 35th Ward Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa. "Because Christopher Columbus is no hero, and he should not be celebrated in our public squares."

Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez agreed.

"Yes, I think that this is a step in the right direction," he said. "I mean I wish I wish it was just sooner so that we can spare our community more suffering, more people getting hurt."


Some Chicagoans said they were glad to see the statues removed from Grant Park and Arrigo Park. For others, it was deeply painful.

Calls have been made all across the country for monuments depicting controversial figures like Columbus to be taken down in the nationwide fight for racial justice.

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

Protest escalates near Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park

People who have called for the statue's removal point to the displacement and mistreatment of Native Americans that followed the colonization of North America

"It was a disappointment we didn't get to see the statue taken down, but we are definitely happy that Mayor Lightfoot has taken it down herself, even though she says so far it's temporary, we hope it will be permanent," said Troi Valles, Black Lives Matter.

"The statement that was made that it was coming down because of public safety concern, and not because of the genocidal history of Christopher Columbus, and that part is a little disappointing," said Allena Bradley, Black Youth Project 100.

"It's a good move, it's a good look for the city. It seems like we're making progress," said Ephraim Martin, resident.

But some Italian Americans in Chicago say Columbus is a symbol of their assimilation and achievement in American culture.

"It represents a void that's been left in our hearts and one that was represented by the contributions of our fathers, our parents, our grandparents," said Pasquale Gianni of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans.

"This is a slap in the face for the Italian community," said Carlo Vaniglia, resident. "Like I've told everybody, if you take away statues or monuments you are no better than the Taliban because whether your like or it or don't like it, it's history."

"The mayor's decision was wrong. She's a coward. You have to stand up to these people," said Steve Mane, resident.

"There's a lot more Americans who want it to stay up. They're called the silent majority," said Jeff Muehlfelder, resident and political candidate.

So what happens next? Up or down, protesters say defunding the police remains their ultimate goal.

"This statue taken down, in layman's terms, is to make the public think she's doing something that is something the people asked for," said Christopher "Thoughtpoet" Brown, Black Youth Project 100. "The main thing we're asking for still hasn't been addressed."

Earlier Thursday night hundreds of people protested near Lightfoot's house in Logan Square, calling for a reallocation of city money. They want the police budget cut and the funding rerouted into social services and community programs.

Local Italian Americans, other leaders call for peace, threaten 'war' in Little Italy's Arrigo Park