Why is Columbus Day still a thing?

Published 7:26 am Monday, October 9, 2017

With some cities and states recently deciding to move or relocating Confederate statues because of their connection with slavery and because they could be viewed as offensive to black Americans, how is Columbus Day still a thing?

I can still remember a good chunk of the song I learned early on in life at school about Christopher Columbus and his so-called discovery of America – “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue … something, something, something ….”

OK, so maybe not a good chunk, but I do remember learning about the brave Italian explorer who beat the odds and discovered the “new world,” on his three ships.

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As we grew up, most of us learned that wasn’t necessarily the whole story or even the right story on how our continent was discovered. We also learned that Columbus and was largely responsible for the genocide and enslavement of the Native American population.

In Columbus’ log book, he wrote, “They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance … They would make fine servants … With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

However, knowing this history, Columbus Day became a national holiday in 1937.

Several states have taken steps to remove the “holiday.” Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, South Dakota and Vermont do not recognize Columbus Day at all and several other cities, most recently Los Angeles, California, have renamed the day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

In Mississippi, most local, state and federal offices and courts are closed today; however, it’s not a mandatory paid holiday for employees.

Counter-arguments to changing the name of the holiday come from Italian-Americans, who argue that removing Columbus Day is a slight to their Italian heritage.

But aren’t there other Italians in history that could be a better representation of their heritage? I can think of several who helped change the world without killing or enslaving a single person, like Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci.

History cannot be changed – Columbus’ role in exploration will remain in history books despite whether people get a paid day off in remembrance of his travels. But we owe it to our children and all Americans to at least get the history right and not sugar coat something that leaves a very sour taste in the mouths of the people who inhabited this continent well before we did.