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Input Sought on Syracuse's Ethnic History for Heritage Park, with or without Columbus Statue

Columbus Statue.jpg
Chris Bolt/WAER News
Removal or relocation of the Columbus monument is on hold, but progress continues on Heritage Park in downtown Syracuse

Syracuse civic leaders and history experts want to know what local residents would like to see in a new park the will include the controversial Columbus circle. A lot of attention was given to a decision by Mayor Ben Walsh to remove the Columbus statue. However, Onondaga Historical Association Director Gregg Tripoli wants to focus on a positive transformation for the area. The Heritage Park plan would include history of all cultures that have helped shape Syracuse.

“So, we do definitely have an issue in our community. I think this is one of the ways that we can begin healing and address inequity and acknowledge that we have had a difficult history and that oppression is part of our history, but that there are many contributions that have been made to our community from those populations.”

Tripoli will be facilitating the Heritage Park Advisory Committee. He explains the park can go forward whether the Columbus monument is removed or not. In fact, Tripoli suggests the controversy around how Native Americans are pictured and how some local Italians have rallied around it, misses the point of why the statue was erected.

“The purpose of that monument was as a tribute to our Italian-American community. It was about celebrating their many contributions. But you don’t see that, you don’t know that from looking at that monument. So, it will be important to tell the history of that monument, and why it was erected, and by whom. It would be important to tell that the Italian Americans at the time also suffered from terrible oppression.”

Columbus Statue Panel Bolt.jpg
Chris Bolt/WAER News
Panels such as this one that show Native Americans bowing or subservient to Columbus and other travelers have drawn criticism and would likely be removed whatever happens to the monument in the future.

The removal or relocation of the statue is being delayed by a lawsuit by a local Italian-American Group. But Tripoli says it, or another monument, could remain, with better interpretation and changes. And he suggests Syracuse is a perfect place for a progressive, educational destination.

“Syracuse and Central New York have always been throughout history a place of reform, right? We have been at the forefront of things like the Women’s Rights and the Abolitionist Movements. So, we always have been at the forefront of many of these reform movements.”

Tripoli says the nation is going through a movement to better understand the role – and truth - of disadvantaged and oppressed groups. Heritage Park can be a better use of the prominent gathering space, to transcend what has been Columbus Circle.

“It is time though that a community like Syracuse, that is so diverse, that we respond to the need to recognize that oppression has been part of our history, and that there are many, many marginalized communities that have made incredible contributions to our community identity to make us who we are as Syracusans.”

Columbus Circle and Heritage Park Bolt.jpg
Chris Bolt/WAER News
Heritage Park would replace what is currently Columbus Circle and include the parcel across the street, with a goal of telling a more complete story of Syracuse's history of ethnic contributions and struggles.

The planning group is asking the public for contributions made by various ethnic groups to the city, and input about the struggles and oppression they faced. That information will make up a request for proposals to be sent to artists and others for ideas that will eventually make-up Heritage Park.

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.