Is NJ Town’s Statue of Columbus Next? Monument Called ‘Reminder of our Terror’
LONG BRANCH — As the city of Asbury Park considers what to do with the statue of its segregationist founder, this other shore town might be brought into a debate about its own statue of Christopher Columbus.
According to the Asbury Park Press, a group is calling for the removal of the statue, which has been in the town for more than 50 years.
Walter Alomar, president of the Organization for Culture of Hispanic Origins, called the monument a "reminder of our terror, of our genocide, and we drive by it every day." Alomar was referring to the killing of natives of the Caribbean after Columbus' trip across the ocean in 1492.
The discussion about the statue comes at a time when Confederate monuments across the country have been put in the crosshairs by those whole believe that certain historical figures should not be celebrated. The debate this summer turned violent and deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia, where protestors clashed over the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
And it's not just Confederate statues.
Perhaps the most-famous Columbus statue in the nation — the 1892 monument at Columbus Circle in Manhattan — is now under 24-hour police police protection after a series of recent vandalism attacks.
Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider told New Jersey 101.5 that he had not been directly approached about removing the statue, which has been at Slocum Park since 1961. If he was, Schneider said he likely would not support the removal but would be willing to talk about the larger story of Columbus.
"We're not going to start rewriting history," Schneider said. "If you want to have a conversation about it, let's talk about what Christopher Columbus really did. It's a conversation I'm willing to have with someone who thinks the statue should be removed."
Schneider said in addition to other stories at the national level, similar discussion happened not far from the park as nearby Monmouth University had discussions about removing the name of President Woodrow Wilson from one of its most famous buildings.
Monmouth University ultimately decided not to remove Wilson's name from the building, and now this year Stockton University is embroiled in a similar controversy over a bust of Declaration of Independence signer Richard Stockton. The university decided to move the bust from the library to the president's office, and the school said it is having a larger discussion of what to do with the Stockton name after already changing the school's name from Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
Over the summer, a group announced their desire to see the statue of city founder James A. Bradley removed because of his connection to racism. The Asbury Park Historical Society has expressed its opposition to the statue's removal. The statue of Bradley was erected 40 years before the statue of Columbus.
The Long Branch discussion comes ahead of the annual Columbus Day celebrations, which Schneider said predate his tenure in office. The Latino population has also grown in a town which formerly had a much larger Italian population.
Joseph Mercadanta, past president of the Amerigo Vespucci Society, who was 8 when the statue was dedicated, told the Press he believes the statue should stay.
"There is a recent bandwagon against Columbus, but I don't think the statue should come down," he said. "He was an explorer who made a discovery. It led to our culture today."