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City of Wilmington removes Columbus, Caesar Rodney statues

By Christy Fleming, Town Square Delaware

As social unrest over the death of George Floyd continues in cities across the country, people have formed citizen groups calling for the removal of monuments and statues honoring Confederate figures, slave owners and Christopher Columbus.

On June 13, the City of Wilmington removed the statue of Christopher Columbus on Pennsylvania Avenue, and later that afternoon removed the Caesar Rodney statue from Rodney Square.

Mayor Purzycki said the statues are being removed and stored “so there can be an overdue discussion about the public display of historical figures and events.” The mayor’s office said it has been monitoring social media posts indicating that individuals and groups were poised this weekend to damage or remove the statues.

This week statues of the European explorer have been torn down, defaced or decapitated in cities like Boston, Richmond and Minneapolis following calls by groups who say Columbus was responsible for destroying and enslaving indigenous people.

On Wednesday evening, a new group formed on Facebook calling for the removal of the statue across from Ursuline Academy.

Joe Sielski founded the Facebook group called, “It’s time to remove the Columbus statue (Wilmington, DE).” He said of the statue’s removal today, “It’s an important step for the community. People who truly understood his history saw his presence as a threat. From the Indigenous American perspective, he was not a hero; and they look on his visage with disdain and resentment. I think it’s important that that is addressed. His removal today is the appropriate atonement.”

Someone shared a Facebook live of the Christopher Columbus statue coming down this morning in Wilmington

In response to the removal of the Columbus statue and the impending removal of the Caesar Rodney monument, Lauren Witzke created a Facebook event page called, “Restore and Protect Our Monuments.” Their gathering took place at the removal of Caesar Rodney in Rodney Square.

On the Facebook page, Witzke said, “Earlier today The Christopher Columbus Statue in Wilmington, DE on Pennsylvania Ave was removed without public debate or discussion. Our City and State leaders continue to cave to the communists mob, who attempt to erase our Nation’s history by removing statues and desecrating memorials.”

“We will be congregating in Rodney Square this evening to protest the removal of the Caesar Rodney Statue. We demand the restoration of all Statues and Memorials. We demand their protection. We demand those who destroy or deface them be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

In a statement released today, Mayor Purzycki said because memorials, statues, and other public displays are being scrutinized as part of the racial justice reform movement underway throughout America, his office is taking the opportunity while the statues are removed to engage individuals and groups in a discussion with him about their perspectives. 

“We cannot erase history, as painful as it may be, but we can certainly discuss history with each other and determine together what we value and what we feel is appropriate to memorialize,” said Mayor Purzycki.

“We can determine together how we should proceed as a City when it comes to public displays. In this period of awakening for our City, State, and country, we should be listening more to each other and building a more just City and a better America,” said Purzycki.

Rodney, one of Delaware’s founding fathers and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a slave owner. The statement did not address whether a change of the name of Rodney Square was being considered, and the Mayor’s office has not responded to request for comment.

Delaware for Police Oversight and #NotJustAProtest also responded to today’s events: “While we believe that the removal of both the Christopher Columbus and Caesar Rodney statues is a long-overdue step towards creating a more inclusive environment for all people, we must not forget that those statues are only symbolic in nature. 

“We the people, and all branches of government must continue this progress by committing to dismantling the systemic and institutional injustices  which these statues represent.”

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