In 1927, a group of Italians in Hibbing began to spearhead a movement that soon included other Range towns, Duluth and the rest of the state, to erect a statue of Christopher Columbus at the state Capitol.
The Italians on the Range and across America were for many years on the lowest rung of the immigrant hierarchy. They came to Hibbing because of America’s promise of a new life, and in order to find that life they endured the cold, working for low wages in the iron mines, discrimination and trying to become part of a society whose language they didn’t speak.
But they were resilient, they became good citizens, and they were proud of what they had accomplished. The statue to Christopher Columbus was an effort at self esteem. Columbus was the discoverer of America and a hero to the immigrants.
The group hired a St. Paul sculptor, Carlo Brioschi, himself an immigrant and a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, to create the statue. It was dedicated in 1931, and the main speaker was Gov. Floyd B. Olson.
A couple of weeks ago, an activist indigenous peoples’ group threw a noose around the statue’s head and hauled it to the ground. Many of the protesters kicked the statue in the face. Their hatred for the symbol of Columbus was visceral and deep.
The record of the European settlement of North America has a dark side, touched with genocide, exploitation, disregard for the law, and land theft. Native Americans have every right to want to educate the rest of us about this tragic past.
The Italians in Minnesota who banded together to put up this statue did so out of a sense of accomplishment in rising from the teeming masses to a position of respect and honor. The statue was their touchstone.
We haven’t quite got to that place in America where we can promote our dream without stomping on the dream of someone else.
Zdon is a former editor of the Hibbing Daily Tribune