Two years ago, there were widespread protests and violent clashes with police as activists sought to topple statues honoring Christopher Columbus in Chicago. To avoid more violence, Mayor Lori Lightfoot removed the statue in Grant Park in the dead of night, promising the Italian American community — an important voting bloc in the city — that the statue would return.
As a sop to the activists, Lightfoot ordered the formation of a task force — the Chicago Monuments Project — to determine which monuments should be torn down and which would be spared.
Mr. Columbus never had a chance. The task force released its findings and it included deep-sixing the three Columbus statues on city property.
It also called for the removal of the Italo Balbo Monument in Burnham Park. The statue was a gift from Mussolini recognizing the leader of the Italian “Blackshirts.” who commanded the 1933 transatlantic flight of seaplanes from the Italian Air Force. The statue was part of the Italian pavilion of the World’s Fair and was never taken down — although it probably should have been.
But it was the Columbus statues people were interested in knowing the fate of. The statue in Grant Park is an iconic symbol of Chicago, and Lightfoot, who has the option of not following the task force recommendations, may fulfill her promise and return the statue to its original place.
The Monuments Project also recommended the removal of 40 other artworks for various crimes against the woke.
- DuSable Bridge reliefs that show “the Battle of Fort Dearborn within an allegorical narrative of the triumph of Western civilization. American Indians are used as merely a foil to help define the heroic acts and qualities of colonizing forces.”
- Jean Baptiste Beaubien plaque, at the Chicago Cultural Center, which honors the “second” citizens of the city, neglecting Native Americans who were already there.
- Jacques Marquette-Louis Jolliet memorial at Marshall and 24th Boulevard, which “reinforces stereotypes about American Indians.
- Tablets dedicated to Cavelier de la Salle and Jolliet and Marquette at the DuSable Bridge state, “‘The first white men to pass through the Chicago River…,’ (and) explicitly voice the ideology of white supremacy.”
There is also a statue of General Philip “the only good Indian I ever saw was dead” Sheridan. Later, Theodore Roosevelt paraphrased Sheridan when talking about his experiences in North Dakota as a younger man. The task force recommended the Sheridan statue near Soldier Field be taken down.
The reaction by the Italian-American community to permanently removing the Columbus statues would be harsh enough to give Lightfoot pause. But the outcry on the left will be just as vocal and as damaging politically to Lightfoot as the Chicago Italian community’s reaction.
So what will go into all these empty spaces? Lightfoot has some ideas there.
The panel recommended the city award $50,000 grants to artists for development of ideas, including monuments honoring Pilsen Latinos, Mahalia Jackson, the Mother Jones Heritage Project, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable and Kitihawa, his wife and a local Potawatomi woman. In addition, the city should support monuments for the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial, the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, a “visibility project” focused on Black women and girls and a “community-led monument to victims of gun violence in Chicago.”
Other monuments — including ones in tribute to President Abraham Lincoln — fell under the “revise or add narrative” batch.
The “monuments are not, nor were they intended to be, political statements,” wrote committee member Sergio Giangrande, former president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans. “It is senseless to try and make them into a political agenda,” he wrote.
Amen to that.