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Richmond’s Italian-American Community Offers To Take Back Columbus Statue

black and native american activists stand in front of the christopher columbus statue during a protest
Black Lives Matter and Native American protesters toppled the Christopher Columbus statue near Richmond's Byrd Park on June 9. (Coleman Jennings/VPM News)

The Italian-American community gifted a Christopher Columbus statue to Richmond in 1927. Now, they’re offering to take it back. 

Two Richmond organizations representing Italian-Americans — the  Giuseppe Verdi Lodge #315 and the  Italian-American Cultural Association of Virginia — have sent an official bid to City Council, offering to take ownership of the statue near Byrd Park. For years, their members have provided upkeep for the 6.5 ft bronze statue and the flowered area around it. The statue  was toppled back in June by Black Lives Matter and Native American activists who then burned it and tossed it into a lake.

Aldo Funai, president of the Giuseppe Verdi Lodge, said the group would like to repair the statue and place it on private property.

“We can argue that it was right to remove the statue and the means by which it was removed, but that isn’t my purpose this evening,” Funai said at a recent City Council meeting. “My purpose is to request that the city return the statue to our organization, as it appears to have no more use for it.”

According to Funai, the Giuseppe Verdi Lodge is the only existing organization that may have been involved in commissioning the Columbus statue, which was originally crafted by Richmonder Ferruccio Legnaioli. Two of Legnaioli’s grandsons are members of the lodge.

Funai and John Corritone, a member of the Cultural Association, emailed an offer to city officials to take possession of the Columbus statue just days after it was pulled down.

The toppling of statues to Columbus has become a nationwide phenomenon, as protesters call for a reckoning on America’s history of racism in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. The Fifth Century navigator, whose exploration of the Caribbean and South and Central America relied on the  forced labor of Native peoples, has been viewed by protesters as a symbol of genocide.

Corritone, whose grandparents immigrated from Italy, said over the past couple of months he’s come to understand more about the hurt that Native Americans feel regarding Columbus. 

“I do understand that for them, Columbus represents someone that just came into their home, into their native lands, took over and turned them into basically slaves,” he said.

Corritone said relocating the statue from the public space to private property could be a compromise that honors the perspective of both Native Americans and Italian-Americans, who continue to view Columbus as a symbol of pride for early immigrants.

“Italians were stereotyped when they came in and they had to climb the social and economic ladder, just like other ethnic groups have done,” Corritone said. “Someone like Columbus could be a symbol for that legacy and pride of being not only Italian, but an Italian-American.”

Richmond City Council has yet to outline a process for how they will vet and decide on offers for the Confederate statues removed by protesters and the city. Council Chief of Staff Lawrence Anderson said the body will likely follow a similar process with the Columbus statue, although the two Italian-American groups are the only ones to specifically ask for it. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that George Floyd was shot by police - we have corrected it to state that he was killed.

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