State Watch

Columbus statue to be removed from California state Capitol

California legislative leaders on Tuesday announced that statues of Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella would be removed from the Capitol rotunda, saying that they have no place in the halls of state government today.

“Christopher Columbus is a deeply polarizing historical figure given the deadly impact his arrival in this hemisphere had on indigenous populations,” Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D), Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D) and Assembly Rules Chairman Ken Cooley (D) said in a statement.

“The continued presence of this statue in California’s Capitol, where it has been since 1883, is completely out of place today. It will be removed.”

The announcement came amid a national reckoning over racial injustice in light of the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. The incident prompted protests nationwide, as well as renewed calls from activists and lawmakers for the removal of monuments commemorating figures believed to be symbols of racism. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week demanded that Confederate statues be removed from the Capitol’s campus in Washington, D.C., arguing that they “pay homage to hate, not heritage.” However, Republican lawmakers have pushed back against the effort. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he opposed attempts to “airbrush” history. 

Roger Niello, a former Republican assembly member from the Sacramento area, echoed that stance in response to the announcement regarding California’s Columbus statue. 

“I guess now if we don’t like part of our history we just erase it,” he said in a tweet.

The marble statue in the California Capitol depicts Columbus asking Queen Isabella to finance his 1492 mission to the Americas. Sacramento banker Darius Ogden Mills gave the statue to the state in 1883.

Statues of Confederate leaders and Columbus have been targeted by protesters in several states amid the unrest. Demonstrators in Minneapolis and Richmond, Va., have toppled statues of Columbus. In Boston, protesters beheaded a statue of Columbus standing in a park named after him.

Tributes to Columbus have been at the center of controversy for years now, with critics arguing that his trip helped lead to the transatlantic slave trade and European colonization of native peoples.

California stopped viewing Columbus Day as a state worker holiday in 2009, according to Politico. California law, however, still lists Columbus Day as a state holiday. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) last year issued a proclamation declaring Oct. 14, 2019, as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the state. The proclamation did not make the day an official state holiday.

Updated at 6:38 p.m.

Tags California christopher columbus demonstrations Gavin Newsom Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Protests Sacramento Statue

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