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.
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.