Detroit mayor orders removal of Christopher Columbus bust

Detroit mayor removes Christopher Columbus statue as racial tensions rise in US

DETROIT – Detroit’s Christopher Columbus bust was removed from its pedestal on Monday as protests against racism and police brutality continue in the city.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan ordered the bust to be removed. It will be placed in storage as the city decides what to do with the monument long-term.

The Columbus bust has been a target of vandalism in the city for years. Columbus monuments around the country have been removed in recent weeks.

In fact, Detroit no longer even celebrates Columbus Day, but instead, Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Speaking at a press conference Monday Duggan said there will be a conversation with the community about the statue.

“When I looked at some of the violence around the country, and in particular you got people with arms gathering around a Columbus statue in Philadelphia arguing with people. I thought we don’t need this. We should have a conversation as a community as to what is an appropriate place for such a statue,” said Duggan.

He also talked about the name of the city’s convention center being changed due to race related issues.

Duggan pushed very hard to change the convention center’s name. It was previously named Cobo Hall after former Detroit Mayor, Albert Cobo, who was known as a racist for policies he put in place. The convention center was renamed TCF Center in 2019.

“I just didn’t think our convention center a national symbol of the city should be named after someone who really did a lot to make the lives of African Americans worse in the city of Detroit,” he said.

Statues and monuments have long been a controversial topic in the U.S., especially Confederate monuments in the South. In recent weeks, protests against racism have resulted in the toppling or removal of several monuments around the world.

In Bristol, England, demonstrators toppled a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston and threw it in the harbor. City authorities said it will be put in a museum.

The New Zealand city of Hamilton removed a bronze statue of the British naval officer for whom it is named — a man who is accused of killing indigenous Maori people in the 1860s.

In the U.S., the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck, has led to an all-out effort to remove symbols of the Confederacy and slavery. Several statues of Confederate army leaders have been removed or vandalized, including that of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee. Around the world, historical figures are being re-examined.

So what did Columbus really do? He wasn’t the first to discover the New World, the term generally used to refer to the modern-day Americas. Indigenous people had been living there for centuries by the time Columbus arrived in 1492.

He wasn’t the first European in the New World, either. Leif Eriksson and the Vikings beat him to it five centuries earlier. While many schoolchildren learn about the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, less appealing details of Columbus’ journeys include the enslavement of Native Americans and the spread of deadly diseases.

The indigenous societies of the Americas "were decimated by exposure to Old World diseases, crumbling under the weight of epidemic," historian David M. Perry wrote.

"Columbus didn't know that his voyage would spread diseases across the continents, of course, but disease wasn't the only problem. ... He also took slaves for display back home and to work in his conquered lands."

But there’s no doubt that Columbus’ voyages “had an undeniable historical impact, sparking the great age of Atlantic exploration, trade and eventually colonization by Europeans,” Perry wrote.

About the Authors:

Ken Haddad has proudly been with WDIV/ClickOnDetroit since 2013. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters, and helps lead the WDIV Insider team. He's a big sports fan and is constantly sipping Lions Kool-Aid.