Christopher Columbus is typically known as the Italian who influenced exploration of the “New World.” However, do you know why we celebrate his name as a federal holiday?
It Starts With Murder...
Lets unpack this. President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed the holiday in the year 1892 as a supposed celebration of Columbus’s anniversary, however, it is much deeper than that. Harrison was really looking to solve broken ties with Italy. A group of people from New Orleans strongly opposed Italian American voters. To prove their point, 11 Italian immigrants were lynched.
Italians Were Fed Up
Naturally, the Italian American community sought justice for the deplorable acts against the immigrants. After all, this was the largest mass lynching in the South. They tried everything to get president Harrison to prosecute the murderers, however, the best that he could come up with was compensating them financially through an indemnity.
What Does Columbus Have to Do With This?
Seeing as the lynchings took place the same year of Columbus’s 400 year anniversary of the Bahamas exploration, this was an exciting opportunity for Italians to showcase their heritage. Italy gifted Italian Americans a statue of Columbus to New York City in an area now known as Columbus Circle (originally known as “The Circle”).
Columbus Day Today
President Harrison originally intended for Columbus Day to be a one time holiday to satisfy the tension between him and the Italian community. Obviously, this was not successful for the Italian American community pushed to keep it as a national holiday. Though many see controversies with the holiday, Italians continue to use it as a way to celebrate their heritage and freedom alongside Columbus’s historical contributions.