Dozens gather to protest Columbus bust in Detroit

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
The bust was moved to its current spot on October 12, 1988, under Mayor Coleman Young.

Detroit — A crowd of dozens gathered at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Randolph Saturday afternoon at the statue of Christopher Columbus.

Detroit has largely avoided the controversy regarding Confederate statues and symbols in the week after three people lost their lives while participating in or responding to a Unite The Right rally last Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia.

But Saturday, in Detroit, and in Columbus, Ohio, protests expanded to targets beyond the confederacy to historical figures generally, starting with the man history credits with connecting worlds Old and New. His legacy has been questioned in recent years, and the Columbus Day holiday has become controversial due to Columbus' treatment of native Americans.

Why Columbus? "Because he's the first thing you see when you come to Detroit," said Adrian Polk, 28, communications chair for Black Youth Project 100, which put on the action Saturday.

That's true of drivers arriving to America through the Windsor Tunnel, and of drivers headed west on Jefferson after exiting Interstate 375. And what those visitors saw, from 4:30 p.m. for the next hour, was the stand bearing the Columbus bus wrapped in a black sheet, with "Reclaiming Our History" in white lettering, along with the black power fist, also in white.

What they heard, in addition to several speakers who took advantage of the open mic format, were expletive-filled chants targeting Detroit figures such as Mayor Mike Duggan and business owner/developer Dan Gilbert.

The Columbus bust was never removed, but neither was the sheet when the protest became a march and moved to the Joe Louis fist at Woodward and Jefferson.

Arthur Bowman, 27, turned the crowd's attention to the statue across the street on Jefferson: of George Washington, the first president of the United States.

"That's just another symbol of white supremacy," Bowman said.

As Polk explained: Their day is coming, but it is not today.

The bust was placed, though in a different location, on Oct. 12, 1910 -- 418 years to the date of Columbus' arrival in the so-called New World.

"This monument was dedicated to his honor by the Italians of Detroit," a marker reads on one side.

The bust was moved to its current spot on October 12, 1988, under Mayor Coleman Young.