Columbus covering remains as Philadelphia celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day

Supporters say it's an important part of Italian-American heritage and should be left alone.

Monday, October 11, 2021
Columbus covering remains as Philly celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day
"We are here to honor our heritage, our grandparents who came here," said Francis Recchuiti, a lawyer for the Sons and Daughters of Italy during Monday's event.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A state court ruling will allow a plywood box to remain - for the moment - over a statue of Christopher Columbus that the city has been trying to remove from a South Philadelphia park since the explorer became a focus amid nationwide demonstrations against racial injustice.

In a ruling late Saturday night, the Commonwealth Court vacated a decision earlier in the day by a Common Pleas Court judge to allow immediate removal of the box covering the statue on Marconi Plaza.

City representative Kevin Lessard said Saturday night that removal of the covering during the holiday weekend "would pose a serious public safety risk." He earlier said officials would stop any attempt to remove the covering prior to the state court hearing.

Police put up barricades around the statue to stop anyone from trying to take action.

"I think it's a disgrace that they boxed that statue up. This represents the neighborhood. This represents Italian Americans," said Mark Anthony Carlini of South Philadelphia.

The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania's Sons and Daughters of Italy held their annual Columbus Day ceremony at Marconi Plaza Monday as the statue remained boarded up.

"We are here to honor our heritage, our grandparents who came here," said Francis Recchuiti, a lawyer for the Sons and Daughters of Italy during Monday's event.

"We want to maintain the fact that we have an ethnic identity ... there's no reason to forget your ethnic heritage, and we have. It's important for our kids and our grandkids to understand there was tremendous discrimination, but we've risen above that," added Recchuiti.

Michael Cerruti, the president of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania Sons & Daughters of Italy, said, "When Columbus Day first started they faced discrimination. They face fear with the KKK burning crosses and stopping Italian celebration during Columbus Day. We overcame that discrimination to face discrimination from our government by boxing up a statue," said Cerruti.

Others in the city shared concerns about the plywood being removed.

"It makes me nervous because I saw the problems we had last time," said Chris Augustine, from South Philadelphia.

Jennifer Augustine of South Philadelphia said, "I want the statue gone just like Frank Rizzo."

Common Pleas Court Judge Paula Patrick had said Friday that the city could erect a clear structure to protect the monument but must remove the plywood.

In Philadelphia, a city with a deep Italian heritage, supporters say they consider Columbus an emblem of that heritage. Mayor Jim Kenney said Columbus was venerated for centuries as an explorer but had a "much more infamous" history, enslaving Indigenous people and imposing punishments such as severing limbs or even death.

Kenney earlier signed an executive order changing the name of the city's annual Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day. Monday was the first city holiday under the new name.

After the unrest following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd last year, Kenney characterized removing the statue as a matter of public safety. Patrick, however, wrote that the city had failed to provide evidence that the statue's removal was necessary to protect the public, calling the confrontations "isolated civil unrest."

The City of Philadelphia will seek the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza, officials announced on Wednesday.

The judge ruled in August that the statue could remain in the plaza, calling the decision to remove it "baffling" and unsupported by law and based on insufficient evidence. The ruling overturned a decision by a city licensing board that upheld a July 2020 decision by the city historical commission to remove the statue.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit settlement announced last month has allowed another 106-foot-tall Christopher Columbus monument at Penn's Landing on the Delaware River to remain in place with coverings removed for the foreseeable future, the paper reported.

The City of Philadelphia released a statement on the statue Saturday night:

"The City is grateful that the Commonwealth Court took the time to review this important matter tonight. Earlier today, the City of Philadelphia filed an Emergency Application to reinstate the stay and preserve the status quo-the box protecting the statue.

Just now, the Commonwealth Court reinstated the stay and overturned the Court of Common Pleas order from earlier today.

No action will be taken with respect to the statue at this time. Removing the plywood covering during this holiday weekend would pose a serious public safety risk."

Celebrations are planned across Philadelphia, for Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day

In addition to Monday morning's celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day at Marconi Plaza, another celebration is planned for Monday evening on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Many buildings in the city will be lit in purple, including Boat House Row, the PECO Building and Philadelphia International Airport.