Columbus and the Broader Question about Monuments, Part I
In the 1970’s, a group of children gaze at a large statue as they walk down the street in downtown Columbus, Ohio. The bronze statues depicted in this photograph represent Peace & Prosperity. They flank a large statue of William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States. Creator: WOSU-TV. Source: Ohio History Connection at Ohio Memory
This time of the year, the media tends to highlight articles or broadcasts about Christopher Columbus (or Cristoforo Colombo which was his actual name). Along with these, there are always references to the controversy around this historical figure and some discussions about the name of Ohio’s capital and monuments we have around the state and the country.
This seems the perfect moment to share a project we did with the Columbus Jewish Day School, led by Ms. Vilensky and performed by her incredible students Rony, Zeke and Jonah.
It all started in the summer of 2020 when I presented an idea of a project in a professional development session for teachers. The idea of the project was to engage students in the debate about historical monuments by providing guidelines for research, discussion and action items. You will find the outline of the idea here.
I offered to help Ms. Vilensky with the implementation of the small project in her classroom. She decided to focus on some of the Columbus’ statues present in Columbus, Ohio. As you will see in the outline provided, students start by gathering very basic information about the chosen statue, then they dig deeper to get a holistic idea of why and how the monument was erected.
The next step is to engage students in a discussion about the monument. Did the decision to install them included all voices in the community? Does it tell a full and complete picture of the represented subject?
Finally, students are encouraged to make recommendations about what to do with that monument (should it stay as is, be removed or should more elements be added to it?). To finalize the project, we recommend students to take an extra step by sharing their new knowledge and recommendations with the rest of their school and/or by reaching out to their local historical society or museum organizations to work with them to ensure the whole story is told.
As you can imagine, the tricky part of a project like this is finding reliable sources first, and then leading a discussion about the topic without letting your personal biases direct the outcome of the discussion.
I hope that this inspires you to bring this discussion to your class. The outline of this little project can be used for any monuments or historical markers in your community. It doesn’t need to be around Columbus. It’s better if you choose a historical figure or event that is relevant to your classroom, school or community.
Below is a list of interesting articles and other resources that I shared with Ms. Vilensky. I also added a video that she shared with me. If you have more resources on this subject, please share them with us in the comment section!
In our next blog post, I’ll share the amazing results and insights we got for Ms. Vilensky’s students. I was blown away by their thoughtful perspective, the conclusions they arrived at, and how they incorporated their faith and cultural heritage in their recommendations. You don’t want to miss that. Stay tuned!
Resources for Educators & Students
- This video tackles some of the controversy around historical monuments: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-monumental-reckoning/. (Thank you, Ms. Vilensky!)
- For overall view on the monuments question, here are a few interesting articles (some are more for you, but some can be used with your students):
- Levin, Kevin M. “The Future of our Confederate Monuments Rests With the Kids” Bunk History, November 30, 2017. https://www.bunkhistory.org/resources/1476
- McNeal, Stephanie. “People Are In Love With These Kids’ Ideas For What To Replace Confederate Monuments With” Buzzfeed News, July 7, 2018. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/stephaniemcneal/confederate-monument-replace-ideas
- Walsh, Colleen. “Must we allow symbols of racism on public land?” Harvard Gazette, June 19, 2020. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/06/historian-puts-the-push-to-remove-confederate-statues-in-context/
- Levin, Kevin M. “Why I Changed My Mind About Confederate Monuments” The Atlantic, August 19, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/why-i-changed-my-mind-about-confederate-monuments/537396/
- Drs. David W. Blight, Annette Gordon-Reed, James Grossman. “Erasing History or Making History? Race, Racism, and the American Memorial Landscape” American Historical Association, July 2, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvKw57_53Ds.
- For information on historical markers in Ohio: www.reamrkableohio.org.
?Dig Deeper into the Columbus Statue Discussion
About the removal of Columbus Statue in “Columbus City Hall:
In August 2017 about 150 protesters rallied at the statue in August 2017. The protests aimed to have the statue removed, given Christopher Columbus’s violence and enslavement of American Indians (https://abc6onyourside.com/news/local/protest-at-city-hall-calls-for-removal-of-columbus-statue).
The 2020 George Floyd protests in Columbus renewed calls to remove the statue, with petitions circulating to also remove other statues of the explorer and to rename the city. The statue’s removal was announced on June 18, with the mayor announcing plans for a work of art that better represents the people of Columbus. The Columbus Piave Club, representing the Italian-Americans who facilitated the statue’s installation there, opposed the move, and called for it to either stay or be returned to them. The club stated it had celebrated the anniversary of its unveiling every year by the statue, since 1955: https://abc6onyourside.com/news/local/city-of-columbus-to-remove-christopher-columbus-statue-outside-city-hall.
A city resident filed a lawsuit urging for a court order to stop the statue’s removal, in hope that a decision is made by the Columbus City Council after a public hearing: https://www.10tv.com/article/news/lawsuit-filed-to-stop-removal-of-christopher-columbus-statue-outside-city-hall/530-0926b8bb-50e7-418d-93d1-80bdc82ba6c6.
The Columbus Art Commission, which oversees the city’s public art, voted unanimously to approve the statue’s removal on June 24. The statue was removed and stored on July 1, without a public hearing, as the mayor was able to order it. The art commission announced there will be public input into the work that replaces it, and who the artist will be: https://www.10tv.com/article/news/columbus-art-commission-approves-mayors-order-to-remove-christopher-columbus-statue/530-8382ceef-a272-4a98-856c-bbd2d1e06464 and https://radio.wosu.org/post/christopher-columbus-statue-removed-columbus-city-hall#stream/0.
Other locations and decisions: https://www.columbusunderground.com/christopher-columbus-statues-columbus-ohio-we1 and https://www.wfmj.com/story/42380800/columbus-statue-to-remain-on-ohio-statehouse-grounds-for-now.