“The murder of George Floyd, and the ensuing demonstrations against racial injustice across the United States, and here in Camden County, has inspired many to reconsider monuments and statues of historical figures in their communities. This renewed attention to police brutality, systemic racism and bias, and the undervaluing of diverse voices in our civic discourse is not only welcome, but long overdue.
In many parts of the country, citizens and their public officials are correctly calling out memorials of confederate leaders who fought against the United States during the Civil War – actions which led directly to the continuation of slavery and a century of racist policies and institutionalized oppression. For too long, the pain and anger that these statues caused black and brown Americans was ignored. Today’s dialogue is an important step for our country as we decide which of our leaders have stood up to the test of history, and those whose legacy is no longer, or never was, deserving of our adoration.
For many, the story of Columbus was taught to them as one of a brave explorer who stumbled upon an uninhabited new world, setting in motion the colonization of the Americas. What was not taught was that Columbus arrived in a land inhabited by Native peoples, that he was directly responsible for the slaughter of many of these Natives, and that countless other atrocities were committed at his direction.
The Freeholder Board supports the right of all people to celebrate their heritage. All races, religions, and nationalities have centuries of history to celebrate for their ancestors’ contributions to history. However, it is our responsibility to constantly reevaluate our heritage and the legacies of those who left their mark on history. Our symbolic celebration of heritage should reflect a celebration of those who shared the values we exhibit today, not those whose actions and beliefs are viewed abhorrently as society progresses.
The removal of statues and monuments does not have to mean the removal of a group’s right to celebrate their lineage. The Freeholder Board will be working with the Sons of Italy to develop new artwork which celebrates Italian heritage in Cooper River Park. Moving forward, we will be initiating a dialogue with the Sons of Italy to determine how to best repatriate their Christopher Columbus statute from the park to a private location.
We believe this current moment in America to be one of a great healing that has been long overdue. These decisions and discussions may be difficult, and at times they may be uncomfortable, but they will ultimately move us toward a more just, equitable society for all Americans.”