More than 500 years later, Christopher Columbus’s checkered past is finally catching up with him – at least in Chelsea and many other communities where he has been honored with statues and celebrations of his voyages.
Several members of the Chelsea City Council put forth an order at the June 15 Council meeting to immediately take down the Christopher Columbus statue in Chelsea Square and replace it with a thoughtfully designed memorial to the indigenous peoples who inhabited Chelsea prior to white settlement.
Council President Roy Avellaneda and colleagues Melinda Vega Maldonado, Naomi Zabot, Judith Garcia, Damali Vidot, Enio Lopez and Yamir Rodriguez introduced an order calling for the immediate removal of Columbus. They asked that the Chelsea Historical Commission and the Chelsea Arts and Culture Commission place on their agendas a motion to collaborate a discuss “a memorial for the original indigenous inhabitants of Chelsea to remember their place in Chelsea’s history.”
Council President Avellaneda moved to pass the order, but was held up by Councillor Giovanni Recupero, who said he would like a conference to discuss the matter. He said he isn’t in favor of removing the statue or replacing it. It has stood in its place since Dec. 12, 1938. It proclaims on its base that Columbus was the ‘Discoverer of America.’
Councilor Calvin Brown said he felt that the Council needed to slow down the effort, and he advocated for Recupero’s conference to discuss it.
“It’s been there 70 years so I wonder if we have any obligation to find out any history about it and who put it up,” he said. “I don’t know the history of it. I think we’re moving too fast…I see no problem in the order, but I do see you still have some obligation to the public to have a discussion. We have conferences about almost anything if it’s controversial and I think this is controversial.”
Councillor Damali Vidot said if the Council is going to fight structural racism, this is the move to make.
“We’re talking out of both sides of our mouths if we’re talking about fighting structural racism and then we don’t want to do this to fight it,” she said. “But I’m in favor of dialog all the time.”
Said Zabot, “Dialog is always important, but it is also important to stand up always for what we believe in.”
Councillor Todd Taylor said it is important to talk with the community about this, hear all points of view and then make a decision. He said the place to make the decision is not quickly during a remote Council meeting.
“This is a decision that needs to be made by the community in a discussion,” he said. “If the community wants it taken down, take it down. Being a trained historian and understanding how history is taught in American universities, there should be a dialog before we take this action. It’s only fair we talk about these things before we do them.”
The consensus of the Council was to move it to a Subcommittee on Conference, which has yet to be scheduled. There, the Council and members of the community can look carefully at the issue.
The statue has gone barely noticed for probably the last 20 years or more since the Knights of Columbus folded in Chelsea. There is no Columbus Day celebration in Chelsea for years, and the statue is obscured to a great degree from the street by large trees.
Some didn’t even know the statue existed until the recent debate.
According to the base of the statue, its sponsors were Armando Diaz Society, the Chelsea Council #83 Knights of Columbus, Sons of Italy Chelsea Lodges #1460, Chelsea Ladies Lodge #1772, Chelsea Girls Junior #80, Victorian Junior #81, the S. Arcangelo Trimonte Society, the S. Stefano Medio Society, Societa Regina Degli Angioli, and the Ward 5 Precinct 2 Club.