Columbus high schooler starts petition to remove Christopher Columbus statue

COLUMBUS, Wis. – Following protests over the death of George Floyd, statues of confederate leaders and Christopher Columbus are under fire nationwide, with some officials deciding to remove them or protesters tearing them down themselves.

Columbus High School senior Abbi Adams said the Black Lives Matter movement inspired her to make change in her community, as well, starting a petition to remove the Christopher Columbus statue near the city.

“My thought process was, I don’t want to do nothing about racial injustice in the community, especially now,” Adams said.

The Christopher Columbus statue sits near the closed Shopko in the busy area on Highway 16 right off Highway 151, visible to drivers leaving and entering Columbus.

“This is what they’re greeted with. They’re not greeted with, ‘Christopher Columbus was not a good person.’ They’re not greeted with, ‘he did so many horrible things,’” Adams said. “He sold children into slavery. He owned thousands of Native Americans as slaves. We don’t see that.”

She said she would rather see it placed elsewhere with more context — perhaps a historical society or museum.

Columbus has a Christopher Columbus Museum located inside the city’s antique mall. Dan Amato founded the museum and owned the mall up until last year. He said he had the statue built, along with a plaque for the 1992 500-year anniversary celebration of Columbus’s arrival to America.

Amato said the statue was built by David Oswald whose sculptures are found across Wisconsin, including at the House on the Rock. For Amato, the statue is a nod to how monumental the explorer’s life is in our history and celebrates the city and its people.

“It’s dedicated to all citizens of Columbus ,Wisconsin, past, present and future,” Amato said.

It doesn’t make sense to move the statue to the museum, Amato said, as he’s only planning to keep the museum around for a few more years. He said he is receptive to displaying it elsewhere, with the Knights of Columbus in the city a possibility.

Adams said she isn’t trying to erase history but that she would like the city to carefully consider choices when facing the future.

“What can we do to show history instead of honoring him?” Adams said.

She plans to take her petition to the city council.

Columbus Mayor Michael Thom said in an email that he’s working to find information on who ultimately has authority over the statue. According to Amato, the state owns the land the statue sits on.

Thom said the city has to be certain there is no confusion before making any decision on moving the statue.

“None of us are blind to the current political climate surrounding polarizing historical figures such as Christopher Columbus, and that we see monuments and statues being removed through different means,” Thom wrote in the email. “I understand and respect the very strong emotional and immediate need for swift action at times on controversial or contentious issues. However, if residents of The City of Columbus wish to petition their elected officials to consider the removal of a statue, this issue follows the same process that every other potential action of the city council requires.”

According to Thom, the item is on the agenda at the July 7 meeting, with the goal to have the information necessary for discussion or potential action.