Pittsburgh Art Commission votes to remove Columbus statue

Written By Geena Provenzano

The Pittsburgh Art Commission unanimously voted to remove the Christopher Columbus statue in Schenley Park after holding a special hearing. The vote will now be taken to Mayor Bill Peduto, who will make the final decision.

While it has recently been a trend to remove offensive statues in other cities, Prem Rajgopal proposed the removal of the Columbus statue last September. The movement picked up momentum in June after Finn Murphy started a change.org petition which gathered over 14,000 signatures. Since then, Rajgopal, Murphy and about 15 others have created email lists and social media accounts to gain support for the removal.

“The symbol of Columbus isn’t of unity and discovery. It’s really a symbol of pain for a certain group of people,” Rajgopal said. “It’s not fair for us to be honoring someone as problematic as Columbus.”

The Columbus statue in Schenley Park was first proposed by Italian immigrants in 1909 and was completed by Frank Vittor in 1958. The statue’s original purpose was to commemorate Columbus Day and serve as a reminder of the adversity Italian-Americans have overcome since the largest lynching in U.S. history of 11 Italians in 1891.

Many Italian-Americans who spoke at the hearing are in favor of keeping the statue because it shows how Italians chose to represent themselves in Pittsburgh.

“The removal or altering of this statue of Christopher Columbus is a direct attack on the proud heritage and ancestry of Italians and Americans of Italian descent, and a slap in the face to their many monumental contributions to the United States,” JonDavid Longo, Mayor of Slippery Rock, said.

Others believe that the story of Columbus has been misinterpreted and he should not be blamed for the mass genocide of Native Americans. Lou Gallo, New York State Chairman for the Commission of Social Justice, claimed Columbus “wasn’t even there.”

“People believe that they can redefine these experiences and determine what and whom people should revere,” Pittsburgh resident Jack Piazzio said. “It is disgusting, pathetic, and frankly un-American.”

While many Italian-Americans find the removal offensive, others feel that action is necessary.

Emily DeFerrari, a Point Breeze resident, sees the removal as not a slap in the face to her Italian heritage, but as a gift.

“If we as Italian-Americans can pivot just far enough to see the statue from that angle, can we not begin to see the suffering for which it is a reminder,” DeFerrari said.

Dominic Victoria, a Greenfield resident, also believes the Columbus Statue should be taken down.

“I ask my fellow Italian-Americans to step back and listen to people whose histories are now defined by the pain and suffering caused by this man,” Victoria said. “Don’t be blinded by allegiance, we have plenty of heroes to look for inspiration.”

While the Commission voted to remove the statue, the final decision is up to Mayor Bill Peduto. Peduto has been quite active in Columbus Day and parades in the past, which has those in support of the removal worried. 

“It is concerning that the mayor is attempting to undermine the authority of the Arts Commission by reducing their final decision to a suggestion,” Rajgopal said. “I’m still seeking clarity on what the steps of removal look like concretely now.”