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FLOWERS: Commonwealth Court Exonerates Christopher Columbus Statue

It’s still in the box, hidden from the triggered gaze. The only ones who would know what lies inside the wooden slabs painted in the colors of the Italian flag are indigenous to Philadelphia, pun intended. It is the statue of an Italian icon, Christopher Columbus, a piece of public art that sat undisturbed for over 40 years in its current location at the southern end of Broad Street on Marconi Plaza.

But a couple of years ago and in the wake of the George Floyd riots, a group of progressive activists in the city decided to wage war against the statue and its significance, arguing that Columbus was a genocidal colonizer and should not be given a place of honor in a newly “woke” metropolis such as Philadelphia.

And so, the city tried to pull down the statue, with the charge led by the current mayor and South Philly native, Jim Kenney. He said, “The Christopher Columbus statue has been a source of controversy.” He immediately jumped to accusing the Italian explorer of being a sadistic maniac, alleging that, “Columbus enslaved indigenous people and punished those who failed to meet his expected service by severing limbs, or in some cases, murder.”

There is very little evidence of this homicidal intent on the part of the sailor from Genoa. In fact, there is a larger body of scholarship that establishes exactly the opposite. My friend and fellow attorney noted Columbus scholar Robert Petrone, has recorded an entire series of lectures regarding the history of Columbus entitled “Christopher Columbus University” which can be accessed here:

But truth has never been a priority for the Kenney administration, which has taken its cue from the most radical and partisan advocates for all sorts of social justice initiatives like open borders, the elimination of cash bail, a criminal justice overhaul that would empty the jails, and attempts to hijack the fair and balanced teaching of history in public schools. To appease this diverse group of malcontents, Kenney ordered the removal of the statue which had been gifted to the people of Philadelphia in the mid-1800s.

Unfortunately for the mayor, he had no idea of the passion and the resolve of those like attorney George Bochetto, who agreed to oppose the statue’s removal in court. Bochetto, who I supported in his recent run for Senate, conducted most of his work pro bono because as he told me when I interviewed him on the Chris Stigall radio show last year, “Anybody that knows the history of Columbus Day knows that its origination was with the New Orleans lynching of nine Italian American immigrants in a savage, savage lynching…and it divided the country so deeply that Congress insisted on enacting Columbus Day in honor of Italian Americans, and Christopher Columbus, and the achievements that Italian Americans have brought to the community.” You can access that interview here:

From the beginning, the supporters of Columbus, among which I count myself, made it clear that we were not attached to a simple statue because it was a piece of significant public art. The meaning of the monument transcends the stone and the carving. It represents the struggle and the glory of a heritage that has contributed so much to this nation. The attacks on the statue and the figure of Columbus are justifiably seen as a direct attack on Italian Americans.

For that reason, and that reason alone, Bochetto and his legal team, supported by a large group of sympathizers in a galvanized Italian American community, fought against Mayor Kenney and his administration’s attempt to erase that history and replace it with something designed to please our critics. Columbus Day was removed from the city calendar and rebaptized as “Indigenous Person’s Day.” When a lower court held that it was improper for Kenney to try and remove the statue, his administration appealed the decision to the Commonwealth Court.

On Friday, that court ruled against the city and ordered it to remove the wooden box that had been spitefully erected two years ago to hide Columbus from public view. As of this writing, the box is still there. But barring any appeals to the state Supreme Court, which are possible given the predisposition of this mayor and his administration to fight tooth and nail against the Italians of this city, the statue of a man who played a key role in opening the door to the west, and to our destiny, will finally see the light of day.

It is shameful that it took this long for justice to be served, but the length of the journey only enhances the sweet taste of victory.


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Columbus Meets the New World: A Quiz

Most American schoolchildren learn about Christopher Columbus, his patronage from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, and his three ships that came to the New World. But few of us know very much about what that “world” was like when Columbus arrived. Here’s a fun quiz to test your knowledge.


1. The New World got the name “America” from …?

A. The Latin word for “Amazing Land”

B. A tribute to Queen Amelia of the Netherlands

C. The explorer Amerigo Vespucci

D. A mineral commonly found in its soil


2. Based on the best current estimates of demographers, how many people lived in the Americas when Columbus arrived?

A. 4 million

B. 40 million

C. 400 million

D. Fewer than a million


3. How many men sailed with Columbus on the Pinta, Nina and Santa Maria?

A. 90

B. 100

C. 125

D. 150


4. When the Europeans arrived, the dominant force on the continent was …?

A. The Mayan Empire

B. The Iroquois Confederacy

C. The Olmecs

D. The Aztec Empire


5. Before Columbus arrived, which of the following was not available to the people of the Americas?

A. Horses

B. Coffee

C. Wheat

D. All of the above


6. Which of the following was not available in Europe until Columbus reached the New World?

A. Corn

B. Potatoes

C. Chocolate

D. All of the above


7. The “Pinta” was not the ship’s formal name, but a nickname given by the sailors. It meant:

A. “Painted one” or “prostitute.”

B. “Pony”

C. It was short for “pinata.”

D. A reference to the pine in the ship’s construction.


8. The Europeans in Central America faced warriors who wielded the “atlatl.” What sort of weapon was it?

A. A curved sword.

B. A primitive firearm.

C. A device that flung darts and spears.

D. A lasso.


9. While 1492 may have been his most famous trip, how many voyages did Columbus make to the New World?

A. One

B. Two

C. Three

D. Four


10. Columbus spent most of the last year of his life …?

A. Living like a king in Spain

B. Exploring the coastline of the Americas

C. Castaway on Jamaica waiting for rescue

D. Building his family home in Hispaniola


ANSWERS:  1-C, 2-B, 3-A, 4-A, 5-D, 6-D, 7-A, 8-C, 9-D, 10-C

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