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A Statue’s Landing: Groups to Rededicate Columbus Monument

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Richmond's Italian-American community banded together in the 1920s, raising money to erect a statue of Christopher Columbus.

The money came, but when the Italians came forward with their proposal to donate the statue to the city, some people deemed the selected site off Monument Avenue as too close to the bronzed Confederates that dot the street.

Anna Gragnani recalls the dispute that ensued. "They didn't think that he belonged," the 101-year-old says. "There was a protest about it. They didn't have a fist fight or anything. I thought, well, you know, he was the discoverer, and he belonged somewhere."

The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups fueled the opposition, according to a 1992 article in the magazine Virginia Cavalcade. Columbus was associated with Catholicism, and strong anti-Catholic sentiments were alive and well.

Richmond's committee on streets eventually approved a less central site -- which is why the statue sits by the tennis courts at Byrd Park. The area was on the outskirts of the city in 1927 when the statue finally was dedicated.

Columbus is controversial for different reasons 87 years later. Every Columbus Day, groups protest what they see as a celebration of the brutal history of colonialism. But the statue remains a point of pride for Italian-American Richmonders, and some of them plan to rededicate the Byrd Park statue on the day before Columbus Day, Sunday at noon.

Gragnani will serve as a guest of honor. She attended the original 1927 dedication, vividly recalling a miserably cold but otherwise joyful celebration. She was a teenager and was one of two girls called upon to help unveil the statue. She still has the original American flag that was draped over the statue before it was unveiled.

According to the article in the Cavalcade, Italian-Americans behind the effort to build the statue were "well pleased, but the initial rejection must have stung."

That assessment sounds about right, Gragnani says. But she's not exactly torn up about how the dispute played out. "At first I thought he belonged with all the other guys," she says of Monument Avenue. "But I think he's in a nice place now."

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