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As Colorado grapples with its checkered history, should statues be removed?

As Colorado grapples with its checkered history, should statues be removed?
Posted at 6:50 PM, Jun 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-25 17:05:47-04

DENVER — In the midst of nationwide protests, there are renewed calls to rename areas and remove certain monuments that have a dark history in Colorado.

The calls come amid nationwide protests demanding police accountability and the equity among all races and ethnicities.

Across the state, the changes have already begun; Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood has opted for a name change and is now polling residents to figure out what the area’s new name should be.

In Denver, Councilwoman Debbie Ortega has proposed renaming Columbus Park to La Raza Park. On Twitter, Denver Public School board director Tay Anderson called for the removal of a statue in Civic Center Park that has a plaque on it honoring Christopher Columbus.

“Hey, Mayor Hancock so when are we taking down the Columbus statue in Civic Center Park? — I strongly advise taking it down this week,” Anderson tweeted. “I would honestly hate for the community to have to take it down. There is some beautiful art around it that doesn’t deserve to be damages. PLUS the grass," he said in a reply to a tweet.

The conversation to remove the statue is not new; Councilman Chris Hinds says he recently received a letter from 1992 asking for it to be removed that has echoes of the same fight for equality today.

He is now in the process of working with different groups to figure out how to move forward. However, in his conversations with the sculptor’s family, he learned that the statue itself does not depict Christopher Columbus.

“I’m learning that the biggest issue was actually with the plaque not with the statue itself,” Hinds said. “I think it’s time to remove the plaque and I think it’s also time for us to consider what might go in its place.”

He is now reaching out to the Italian community, indigenous groups, the sculpture’s benefactor, Denver Parks and Recreation, the city’s art department and others to talk about replacing the plaque.

For now, it has been covered by Black Lives Matter murals on plywood.

“I think it is important for us to have conversations that challenge our assumptions of history and our assumptions of who writes history, and this is the right time to be challenging those assumptions,” Hinds said.

At the base of the Colorado State Capitol a short distance away, instead of removing the statue commemorating a Union regiment that fought in the Civil War, the legislature added a plaque.

The statue was erected in 1909 and commemorates the sacrifices of the First Colorado Cavalry who helped stop Confederates from moving west during the Civil War.

“Yes, they did stop the Confederate Army from moving further west and that was a good thing. But, it was that same regiment overseen by Chivington that went and killed women and children and old people in the Sand Creek Massacre,” said Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, a Democrat who represents Adams County.

Ninety years after the monument was erected, lawmakers decided to place a plaque at the base of the statue that explained the Sand Creek Massacre and the role the First and Third Colorado Cavalry played in it.

“It seems to me there’s an honest reflection, not necessarily that all of them have to come down, but that we might have deep conversations about why they were erected in the first place,” said Susan Schulten, a history professor at the University of Denver.

Schulten says there was a big push in the state between 1870 and 1910 to commemorate all aspects of American history but that the Civil War was given particular emphasis.

“Those are the same moments that African-Americans are being officially kept out through segregation law, kept out of the polling places through disfranchisement, you see the height of lynching; so all of these things have a deep and interconnected history,” she said.

She believes removing or adding context, such as the Sand Creek Massacre plaque, to the statues isn’t about erasing history or ignoring the country’s dark past so much as helping people quantify it.

Rep. Benavidez, meanwhile, wants Colorado to confront its dark history and ask itself who we honor and whether they continue to deserve the recognition.

“I think this time we’re living in right now really is a time for all of us to look at who have we chosen as heroes and who we’ve chosen to emulate,” Rep. Benavidez said. “We don’t forget the history, but we don’t pretend to emulate the bad parts.”