A statue of Christopher Columbus is being removed in Tower Grove Park, St Louis, Missouri, the US, June 16 2020. Picture: DOYLE MURPHY/RIVERFRONT TIMES/REUTERS
A statue of Christopher Columbus is being removed in Tower Grove Park, St Louis, Missouri, the US, June 16 2020. Picture: DOYLE MURPHY/RIVERFRONT TIMES/REUTERS

Los Angeles — A statue of Christopher Columbus was taken down in San Francisco on Thursday because the explorer's actions “do not deserve to be venerated, city officials said.

The statue was removed early Thursday under direction of San Francisco's mayor, and placed in storage.

The move comes shortly after California officials announced a different statue of Columbus would be removed from state capital Sacramento, and follows a wave of orders involving historical monuments as Americans grapple with the legacy of racism.  A statue of Columbus was taken down in St Louis, Missouri, on June 16.

“It was removed because it doesn't align with San Francisco's values or our commitment to racial justice,” arts commission official Rachelle Axel said.

It had been vandalised three times in the last week. A protest had been planned for Friday to bring down the 2-tonne statue, presenting a health risk for citizens, Axel said.

“At this important time in our country, we are all examining the ways in which institutional and structural racism permeate our society. Public art is no exception,” said the San Francisco arts commission in a statement.

“In cities across the US, many historic monuments are being taken down because the actions and ideas symbolised do not deserve to be venerated. Representation matters.”

The May 25 killing of George Floyd, an African American, by a white police officer in Minneapolis ignited mass protests for racial justice and triggered a national soul-searching of the US's colonial and proslavery past.

The 1492 arrival of Columbus in the “New World” has been celebrated in the US, but the Italian explorer's legacy has more recently been revisited over the brutal treatment of native Americans by European colonisers.

On Tuesday, California officials released a statement calling Columbus “a deeply polarising historical figure given the deadly impact his arrival in this hemisphere had on indigenous populations”.

Announcing the removal of the Sacramento statue, the statement said its presence in the capitol building since 1883 “is completely out of place today.”

On Wednesday Oxford University's  Oriel College said it wanted to remove from its facade a statue of 19th-century colonialist Cecil Rhodes. 

Oriel College has been under pressure for several years from the #RhodesMustFall campaign, which argues the statue glorifies racism.

AFP