Columbus Statue Update: Tower Grove Park will honor its history as it continues to be a welcoming place for all

Heritage of Indigenous Peoples, the Land’s First Inhabitants,
Will Join Recognition of Other Ethnicities

Tower Grove Park has been vital to the fabric of St. Louis for more than 150 years. But, long before the Park came into existence, the land on which the Park rests was home to indigenous peoples. We are committed to honor all who are part of its history.  

Last year, we began an effort to fully examine important concerns about the statue of Christopher Columbus located in the Park. The statue is among a series of statues personally commissioned by Henry Shaw in the late 1800s to highlight contributions of several immigrant groups who were prominent in St. Louis at the time. For many, however, the statue symbolizes something very different and much bigger than one park or one city: historical disregard for indigenous peoples and their cultures and destruction of their communities.

Concerns raised about the Columbus statues throughout the U.S. led to a long overdue dialogue—here at the Park and across the country—among many with diverse perspectives and deeply held views. We are extremely grateful to all who took the time to share their points of view during an intensive review we conducted among key stakeholders over the last year.

Based on broad input, the Tower Grove Park Board of Commissioners has committed to reinforce the Park’s role as a welcoming place by recognizing the conflicted legacy of colonization and by affirmatively honoring the heritage of indigenous peoples who have called this land home. As part of those efforts:

  • The Columbus statue will be retained, but signage and markers will be added nearby to provide visitors with important historical context about Columbus and the history of the Park’s land. This will include information about the impact of colonization on indigenous peoples. Similar content will be included on the Park’s website.

  • We will work closely with and seek guidance from Native American communities to develop a comprehensive approach that explains and commemorates the history of the land. Specifically, we want to provide Park visitors with an understanding of the culture of indigenous people and the importance of this land.

We are committed to more fully recognize the diverse contributions of those who—for generations prior to the Park’s establishment—inhabited this land. We will continue to involve and keep the community informed of progress as we work toward the appropriate recognition. We look forward with hope that these actions, and the process for accomplishing them, may contribute in a positive way to creating greater understanding and healing in a region that too often suffers from divisions.

The Tower Grove Park Board of Commissioners is extremely grateful for the energetic and thoughtful work of an advisory task force that studied these issues in-depth over the last year. The advisory task force included representatives of:

  • Osage Nation

  • Cherokee Nation

  • Other Native American tribes

  • Hill Business Association

  • Hill Neighborhood Association

  • Black Lives Matter

  • Missouri Historical Society

  • National Park Service

  • St. Louis Art Museum

The advisory task force studied the history related to the Park and the statue, including Columbus’s impact on indigenous peoples. It also considered how other U.S. communities have dealt with issues related to statues of controversial historical figures. In an effort to be broadly inclusive, the task force surveyed hundreds of Park visitors and conducted an extensive web-based survey, receiving input from more than 600 respondents.

At the end of that process, it was clear that there are strong, important perspectives on all sides of these issues. Advisory task force members dedicated many volunteer hours to thoughtfully and respectfully explore potential options. While there was not a clear consensus among all parties, the richly informative work of the advisory task force and citizen input were helpful to the Board of Commissioners in evaluating the issues and possible approaches.

Tower Grove Park celebrates diversity every day—from Tower Grove Pride to the Festival of Nations. In considering these matters, therefore, the Park’s Board of Commissioners has sought first and foremost to underscore and celebrate Tower Grove Park’s commitment to be a place of welcome for all. This Park should be a place that recognizes and honors its history while providing a place for a diverse, vibrant community to gather and enjoy. To this end, during the next several months, we will refine and implement specific steps to accomplish these goals to ensure this Park is a place where divisions can heal, and dialogue can continue.

Read more and share your thoughts with us.

Michelle Lawrence