A 225-year-old monument to Christopher Columbus that stands near a Baltimore park was smashed early Monday morning, following a week of heightened controversy over the presence of Confederate public statues and other racist emblems around the country. The 44-foot-tall obelisk is believed to represent the oldest extant memorial commemorating the explorer in not only the country but also the world.
Video footage of the destruction was posted on Popular Resistance’s YouTube channel this morning and was first reported by Baltimore Brew’s Fern Shen. It records an individual who identifies himself only as “Ty,” taking a sledgehammer to the memorial’s base, where its inscription spells out — or, rather, once spelled out — “Sacred to the Memory of Chris. Columbus Oct. XII MDCC VIIIC.” Prior to the act, he tapes up a sign with the message, “The future is racial and economic justice,” while another anonymous individual holds up another poster that reads, “Racism. Tear it down.” The video cuts, after showing a few blows to the splintered inscription.
“Christopher Columbus symbolizes the initial invasion of European capitalism into the Western Hemisphere,” the individual who identifies as Ty says, narrating over the footage. “Columbus initiated a centuries-old wave of terrorism, murder, genocide, rape, slavery, ecological degradation, and capitalist exploitation of labor in the Americas. That Columbian wave of destruction continues on the backs of Indigenous, African-Americans, and Brown people.”
The 15th-century colonizer, who is often celebrated for “discovering” the United States, has proven to be a popular target of vandalism in recent years. In July 2015 — following another wave of attacks on Confederate monuments — Black Lives Matter protestors in Boston splashed red paint on and tagged a statue of Christopher Columbus. An individual in Detroit then celebrated Columbus Day of that year by taping an ax to a Columbus bust that they also painted red. And just last Friday, a monument to Columbus in a Houston park received a new paint job from unidentified vandals.
The smashing of the Baltimore statue arrives almost a week after city officials quickly and quietly removed all four of its Confederate monuments overnight. It was originally erected on private property, in 1792, on the estate of the French Consul to Baltimore, Charles Francois Adrian De Paulmier. As the story goes, De Paulmier decided to have the obelisk built after a conversation with some guests about “Great Men of the Western World,” when someone brought up the fact that there was no monument honoring the explorer. The statue was moved to its current site on Columbus Day, 1964, to make room for a new Sears & Roebuck store. Baltimore City notably introduced legislation last year to change Columbus Day to “Indigenous People’s and Italian-American Day”; the bill was shy of one vote to pass.