Farewell Columbus, New Haven Rushes to Remove Monument

I had planned to have this read for me on Saturday at the rally to preserve the Columbus statue on Wooster Square in New Haven. But it turns out New Haven may tear the statue down over night, or early tomorrow morning, to make the rally moot. Event organizers have given me permission to publish it before hand.

The Roman orator Cicero once said that a commonwealth, a republic, is not just a collection of people joined by geography. A republic, a res publico, or public thing, is a group bound together by common interests and a common conception of right.

Are we a republic any longer?

We’re here today to voice opposition to removing a statue of Christopher Columbus from a public space. We’re here to say that the history we were taught, which became part of our ethos, our character, is not a vulgar lie, or the product of some vile conspiracy. America is an ideal, a series of commitments, transplanted to these shores and then husbanded over centuries. Tearing up pieces of the history doesn’t make us stronger; it diminishes us.

We are not here to defend Christopher Columbus. He was a great explorer who shares the tragic marks of all whose ideals come hard against reality. You can find fault with Columbus without defiling his memory. You can love American and acknowledge both its shortcomings and the work that needs doing to make a more perfect union.

The same can be said of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

The same can also be said of Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and Martin Luther King.

There was a time when everyone understood St. Paul: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That is original sin, a part of the human condition that only can be overcome by grace.

Much is said these days about America’s “original sin,” the sin of slavery, transported here in 1619 when Africa sold her own children into a bondage perpetuated on these shores. We fought a civil war to eliminate slavery as a legal institution. It took decades of struggle to end the tragic legacy of Jim Crow. In the 1960s, federal civil rights legislation sought to level the playing field in terms of housing, employment and voting.

We’ve come a long way toward fulfilling the American dream.

We have a long way to go.

But what species of pride, of arrogance, justifies tearing down monuments, and attempting to rewrite our history? It’s a long leap from problems with policing to destroying our common heritage. We can’t redeem ourselves, that is the teaching of original sin. Recall, all have sinned.

What sins are you prepared to commit today in the name of your brand of righteousness? What idolatry justifies making today’s rage the prism through which all of history must be viewed?

“This land is your land; this land is my land; from California to the New York island,” wrote Woody Guthrie.

We’re here today in a spirit of hope and promise.

Protest, rage, demand change, but don’t for a moment think you’re alone on history’s stage, and that you have a monopoly on righteousness. That way lies danger, even destruction, history teaches.

We’re awake.

We’re here.

We, too, have grievances and claims worth making.

Comments: (5)

  • Both Sides Now
    Regarding several of the confederate monuments, I believe they were voted down. Too bad current protests are not teaching democracy: hold a referendum on a statue, then take it down. At the time Columbus’ statue was erected in Wooster Square, I doubt any were aware of his diaries where he discussed how easy it was to kill the savages who lacked metal weapons or his plans to enslave the “natives.” Those were only fairly recently discovered and translated. Had it been known at the time, likely the monument would not have gone up. Still context is everything. Some people obviously did know what had happened even if they hadn’t read it in his own handwriting. Reimagining the past, envisioning the future. These solutions take time and dialogue. A couple confederate (not Grant!) statue topplings in the heat of the #blm moment doesn’t bother me as much as protestors seeing their actions as a program or solution and not a sign for some serious dialogue, consensus building, action and legislation. I hope they will not lose this moment. Maybe if 99% of the stimulus had not gone to the 1%, people would be in a better frame of mind. Why isn’t Trump inviting relevant mayors and governors and other stakeholders to the White House? Sad to say, probably no one would show up if he did invite. But, as the saying goes, it’s his job to invite. Not incite.
    Posted on June 24, 2020 at 2:23 am by Nadia
  • Columbus
    I’m really surprised at your position, Norm. I read your column in the CLT for years, and always enjoyed it and almost always agreed with it. But here we part company. Columbus was a tyrant who raped, pillaged, murdered and enslaved hundreds of people and committed genocide on a large scale not once but several times. Of course we can’t rewrite that (or any) part of our history, and we should’nt try. But neither should we continue to glorify it or dignify the shameful parts of it. And by the way, America’s “original sin” actually isn’t slavery, as horrendous as that was, but the genocide of Native Americans to whom this country really belongs.
    Posted on June 25, 2020 at 6:44 am by Chris Burdett
  • CHRIS Burnett
    The culture of Columbus’s time was conquer or be conquered. England, Spain and France were taking over territory after territory claiming it as their own. Does that mean we demolish statutes of the Kings of those countries who where are the command of raping and enslaving as you mention. No we have open dialogue and discuss the good, bad and ugly. Will future generations judge us as harshly for the decisions we have made that were culturally correct at the time and but then erase it because someone driven by emotion and not rational decided it was okay to take away the history of those poor decisions I find that frightening and so should you.
    History is not for you to like of dislike. It is for us to learn by. It’s not yours to destroy. I agree with Norm and I respect that he stood by his values during this emotionally driven time.
    Columbus paved the way for many people to come to America. He documented the journey and allowed for maybe your ancestors to come here and start a new life. That’s what he should be admired for. The sins of our forefathers should not define history. It’s the accomplishments through struggle and determination. That is what we should be admire
    That struggle and grit is what Columbus meanS to thousands of Italians that came to New Haven to start a new life. To never see their families again and to form generations of doctors, lawyers, nurses, iron workers, infamous pizza parlors and much much more. Taking away this statue is to The Italians of New Haven is likened to
    removing the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. It represented hope
    But I’m sure you don’t understand because all you are looking at is his faults, the faults of his culture. If I were you I wouldn’t throw the first stone especially if you live in a glass house. Maybe do a bit
    More reading of history instead
    Of what the 15 second sound bite that media wants you to believe.
    Posted on June 28, 2020 at 10:20 pm by Nancy Antell
  • Removal of the CC Statue in New Haven
    The protest by senior citizens was to have a public hearing held on the removal. Nothing more, nothing less. A Democratic process, but now that I understand the current form of protest, which rejects all forms of Democracy, the violence that was brought to those seniors is understandable. They do not want government by the people. They want to use extortion, via the threat of impending violence and vandalism to rule the day. I understand now, being present, and not using local media accounts as to what occurred there. The statue was removed. The hope that a hearing could be held is gone. The rule of law is gone in New Haven. And those elected officials, local, state, and federal have embraced the new approach. So be it. But it would be good if they accept accountability, for using the power of thier offices, they were elected to, to empower the use of threats, violence, vandalism, when the inevitable collateral damage occurs. I have no doubt that the eventual motive will be to take part in the eventual governance of the economically suppressed neighborhoods of our cities become the first places to succumb to the loss of police services. The deaths that are going to occur, when violent drug gangs fill the void. God Bless everyone, praying for peace, but accepting the reality that will be occurring.
    Posted on June 29, 2020 at 3:17 pm by Joe Redente
  • Statues
    Signing Petitions, filing injunctions, calling the liberal snowflake elected officials will never bring back this statue... We must gather together (500 or more) and walk to the steps if the Federal Courthouse and don't count on the NHPD to be able to protect us. We will use our 2nd amendment freedoms to protect ourselves,... AMERICA UNDER SIEGE"
    The breakdown of America's moral and social virtues has arrived. One of the great gifts of this nation was our freedom of individuality. This country was built by non-conformists, and we thrived within the laws defined in the Bill of Rights...Americans always proudly stood together in spite of our differences and we called ourselves Americans. We were willing to work together in crisis, to support and defend our U.S Constitutional Freedoms. We defended our communities, our neighborhoods, and our families. All of this may soon be lost...
    Our changing demographics have led to the breakdown of our long-standing institutions, like our Parishes, Social Clubs, and Neighborhood Groups where we were educated in the teachings of strong, moral & social values OMG, even our family sit-down dinners have gone the way of the dinosaurs. There is a bigger interest in tweeting on smartphones than having a real face to face conversation. When these conservative trends fall to the wayside, the elements of team-work and mutual respect disappear and that "individualism" becomes redefined as "me-ism.
    8 years of Barack Hussein Obama's fundamental change of America.and his transformation of the Democratic Party into an Evil Force of Resist was born. Woman in Pink Pussy Hats led by Jihadi-supporting Muslim's in a Hijab, BLM & ANTIFA black-masked thugs attacking conservatives. We witnessed transgender Men in Girl's sports programs, illegal immigration out of control, our Police Departments, our Military, our American Flag under daily attacks. The goal of BLM is to rewrite our history and silence their enemies: and destroy our Country's Constitutional Freedoms...
    Never in my life, have I ever been so concerned & worried about the future direction of our Country
    Posted on June 29, 2020 at 11:16 pm by Peter T Cianelli

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