By SHERIDAN CYR
NOTE—In the print version of this article, the Knights of Columbus were identified as the sole fundraiser for the statue, but the organization led the effort in a coalition with Southington Sons of Italy, Sorelle d’Italia in America, Southington Unico, Knights of Columbus, the Calvanese Foundation, and a number of private donors.
Concerns were raised during public communications at the Monday, Sept. 11 town council meeting regarding the Christopher Columbus memorial statue being built outside of the Municipal Center, paid for with funds raised by the Knights of Columbus, Southington Sons of Italy, Sorelle d’Italia in America, Southington Unico, Knights of Columbus, the Calvanese Foundation, and a number of private donors and was unanimously approved by the Town Council in a past meeting.
The base of the statue is already in place, with a bust of Columbus to be placed on top. The base inscription reads, “To the courageous spirit and relentless voyage into the unknown of Christopher Columbus and his fleet on the 525th anniversary of the discovery of America. Dedicated Oct. 12, 2017.”
Dorie Perugini of Southington Women for Progress presented the council with a petition signed by over 120 residents opposing the monument in its entirety.
“I worry about the negative light Southington will be cast in if this goes forward, especially in 2017’s political climate,” said Perugini. “While I understand that Christopher Columbus is traditionally seen as a hero, especially for certain groups living in Southington, this controversial figure is not one that adequately represents our town’s diversity and inclusivity.”
“Rejecting a monument to a man who incited the murder of Native population of an entire continent is not an attempt to erase history but rather a compassionate understanding that we have a responsibility to be very careful about who we memorialize on public property,” said Perugini.
Perugini offered the assistance of the Women for Progress to the council to come up with a compromise of sorts, urging the council to be creative, and said the organization would be willing to spearhead a monument that is inclusive of all of Southington.
Phil Mazzoti, Grand Knight of Columbus in Southington, said in public discussions on behalf of Dick Fortunato who spearheaded the Columbus monument project, that the monument notes the “world-changing significance” of the discovery of America and the “end of the dark ages.”
“This extraordinary moment in history brought on a global enlightenment to millions who migrated in mass from all continents and the opportunity to work hard and raise their families in a land rich in natural resources that offered the common man freedom from persecution and poverty,” said Mazzoti.
“We can’t imagine any direction for this town other than moving this project forward to completion with community pride,” he added.
Resident John Sokolowski, a recent college graduate with a degree in history, spoke on the history of Columbus as well. He said his eighth grade teacher, Dan Harte, is one of the reasons he pursued his history degree.
“Before Columbus Day, [Harte] taught us the truth about Christopher Columbus and our whole class was blown away,” said Sokolowski, citing rape, murder, slavery and other tactics.
I don’t want to be the person to throw a wrench in the gears of this plan because there’s been so much work put into it.” Sokolowski continued, “We want to celebrate this idea of this really good guy because that’s what we want to believe but unfortunately that’s not the truth.”
No action took place on the issue by the council at the meeting Monday night.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.