The monument to the Italian explorer, which had been positioned in Richmond’s Byrd Park until Tuesday night, was brought down amid chants to “tear it down”.
Protesters soon dislodged the 93-year-old monument with ropes before the statue was set alight and rolled into Richmond’s Fountain Lake.
The empty pedestal, which had been earlier targeted with spray paint, carried one sign that read “Columbus Represents Genocide”, reported Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Some 1,000 people are believed to have attended Tuesday night’s demonstrations, which honoured native Americans.
It remains unclear whether the Byrd Park protesters had planned to topple the 8-foot statue in advance.
There was no police presence in the park, said the paper, but one police helicopter was seen circling the area.
News outlet NBC 12 also said its photographer at the protest was told to leave the park on Tuesday night when the statue was toppled.
One activist had told the crowd: “We have to start where it all began,” said the Times-Dispatch. “We have to start with the people who stood first on this land”.
Columbus’s transatlantic voyages unlocked an entire continent for European colonisation, and turned the Italian explorer into a modern symbol of conquest and violence for native Americans.
The Richmond statue’s fate follows that of British slave trader Edward Colston, whose statue was toppled and thrown into Bristol’s harbour last weekend as anti-racism protests spread worldwide.
Protesters and activists across the US have also called on local leaders to remove controversial monuments erected in honour of Confederate leaders.
Virginia governor Ralph Northam had ordered the removal of another Richmond statue last week, before those plans were blocked on Tuesday.
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