Activist Glenn Cantave is spearheading an initiative to remove a 76-foot statue of Christopher Columbus in Manhattan and to replace it with one of Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture, reports The Huffington Post.
The legendary historical figure was not chosen at random. Cantave, who is the founder and CEO of activist group Movers and Shakers NYC, chose L’Ouverture because New York state has the second largest Haitian population out of any state in the United States.
“A terrorist is someone who intimidates people for a political cause,” Cantave told a crowd in Queens last month. “For [Columbus], that cause was the expansion of the Spanish Empire for profit. Columbus threatened and raped and murdered. It is ass backwards that a city like New York, with such a high awareness of terrorism, has a terrorist as a landmark.”
L’Ouverture was a military leader who fought against Napoleonic France in the late 18th century and early 19th century. After gaining victories over the French Empire, Haiti ( then called Saint-Domingue) became the first free republic in the world. L’Ouverture was declared governor for life for his bravery, courage and leadership, but died before actually taking office. His successor, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, was the first official leader of the free nation taking office in 1805.
This push for the removal comes after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he was forming a committee, called the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers, aimed at removing statues that symbolize hate and division as a response to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
In addition to Columbus, activists want statues of President Theodore Roosevelt, Vichy France’s Nazi collaborators Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval and physician J. Marion Sims, who experimented on black women, removed. An estimated 120 artists and scholars made their plea in an open letter released last month.
“In general, monuments reflect financial glory,” Cantave explained. “Oppressed peoples don’t have role models to look up to. L’Ouverture’s efforts resulted in the establishment of the first, free black republic. If you had him glorified as a statue and his name in the textbooks, that would change everything.”
Columbus has been seen as a symbol of white supremacy and violence that needs to be removed to rectify sins of the past, according to activists. As an activist, Cantave has worked tirelessly to foster change. In early November, he staged the “Slave Auction 2017” performance in Herald Square to force New Yorkers to confront Columbus' violence toward indigenous people.
“I’m all for destroying a culture that is governed by white supremacy,” he said. “Black and brown people have been uncomfortable for centuries. The culture needs to shift. Everyone knows who Adolf Hitler is so you don’t see any monuments of him in New York. Let’s be on the right side of history.”