A statue depicting Christopher Columbus that has been the centerpiece of the California Capitol rotunda since 1883 will be removed after legislative leaders decided it is out of place “given the deadly impact his arrival in this hemisphere had on indigenous populations.”
The decision, announced Tuesday by legislative leaders, has long been sought by groups and others who say it’s wrong to honor a man who ushered in an era of genocide to North America’s indigenous peoples. But their effort gained momentum following the nationwide protests over racial injustice spurred by the death of George Floyd.
A statement from state Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Assembly Rules Committee chair Ken Cooley called Columbus “a deeply polarizing historical figure” and said the statue’s presence in the Capitol “is completely out of place today.”
It’s unclear how or when the statue will be removed.
Statues have been coming down across the country as government leaders rethink their places of prominence. In Kentucky, officials removed a statue of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederacy, from the state Capitol. And in Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy, Gov. Ralph Northam has announced plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Monday, Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento removed a statue of John Sutter, a 19th century European colonizer of California who enslaved Native Americans.
The statue in California’s Capitol depicts Columbus appealing to Queen Isabella I, who financed his voyage to the New World in 1492 that began an era of colonialism in the Americas. The statue was a gift from Darius Ogden Mills, a banker who had advocated for California’s Capitol to be built in Sacramento.
While Columbus never came to California, Mills wrote in a letter it was appropriate to display the statue in California’s Capitol because it depicts “an event that had so great an influence on the destinies of the western world.”
Some Native American and Latino groups argued for the statue to stay gone for good in the 1970s when it was temporarily removed during a Capitol restoration project. But the statue returned and has stayed put ever since.
It was long a tradition on the last night of each year’s legislative session for lobbyists and other onlookers to attempt to toss pennies into Queen Isabella’s crown from the second floor of the ornate Rotunda. The practice was discouraged after a portion of a finger of a queen’s attendant on the statue was snapped off in 2014, though it was never determined if the damage was caused by the coin toss.