A Christopher Columbus statue was torn down and thrown in a lake in Richmond last night in the latest protest to target a symbol of racial oppression.
The sculpture was brought down less than two hours after protesters in Virginia’s capital gathered in the city’s Byrd Park and chanted for the statue to go.
Protesters pulled the monument down with ropes, set it on fire and rolled it into a lake in the park to cheers from the assembled crowd.
The empty pedestal was spray-painted and covered with a sign saying ‘Columbus Represents Genocide’ after the statue was taken down.
Columbus’s arrival in the Americas in 1492 unleashed centuries of European colonisation, making him a symbol of conquest and violence to Native Americans.
There was no police presence in the park, but a police helicopter was seen circling the area after the city-owned figure was torn down, local media said.
Activist Chelsea Higgs-Wise was among the protesters who spoke to a crowd in Byrd Park about the struggles of indigenous people and African-Americans.
‘We have to start where it all began,’ Higgs-Wise said during her speech. ‘We have to start with the people who stood first on this land.’
Vanessa Bolin of the Richmond Indigenous Society told the crowd she had come to ‘stand in solidarity’ with those protesting against police brutality.
Another speaker, Joseph Rogers, declared the area ‘Powhatan land,’ saying that racism has impacted both African-Americans and Native Americans.
The statue was dedicated in Richmond in December 1927, becoming the first Columbus statue in the South, reports said.
It comes several days after a statue of Confederate general Williams Carter Wickham was pulled from its pedestal in another Richmond park, Monroe Park.
Virginia governor Ralph Northam has also ordered the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue on Richmond’s Monument Avenue, although a judge has stalled those plans.
‘In Virginia, we no longer preach a false version of history. One that pretends the Civil War was about state rights and not the evils of slavery. No one believes that any longer,’ Northam said.
‘And in 2020, we can no longer honor a system that was based on the buying and selling of enslaved people.’
The statues are the latest to come down amid worldwide anti-racism protests after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis two weeks ago.
Along with monuments in the US, statues of slave traders and colonialists have come down in Britain and Belgium in recent days as the movement spreads worldwide.
Native American groups have long asked for Columbus Day to be changed to Indigenous Peoples Day, arguing that Columbus unleashed centuries of genocide against indigenous populations in the Americas.
Columbus Day marks the Italian explorer’s arrival in the New World in 1492 but campaigners say it should commemorate the victims of European colonisation rather than the conquerors.
While Europe has long thought of Columbus as the ‘discoverer’ of America, Native Americans regard his arrival as an invasion.
Indigenous people were robbed of most of their land and 500 years later they are still among the poorest Americans.