Why Do We Celebrate Columbus Day?
12 Sunday Oct 2014
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By Kelley, AsAMom Admin
So why do we celebrate Columbus Day? First lets look at a very truncated history of Christopher Columbus. If you are interested in greater detail, there are many great books written about his life and explorations.
Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer. The actual date of his birth is unknown. Histories say he was born between October 31, 1450 and October 30, 1451 in the then Republic of Genoa. He died May 20, 1506.
Europe established lucrative over land trade routes to the East called the Silk Road. Precious perfumes, silks, spices were brought back to Europe enriching both merchant and Kingdoms. When the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Turks the Silk Road through the Middle East became very dangerous and was essentially closed. Monarchs of Europe began seeking alternate water routes to continue trading.
Columbus believed a Western route across the Atlantic Ocean would lead to the “Spice Islands”. He developed a three-ship plan to carry out his theory. His plan was rejected by Portugal, Genoa and Venice. He then approached King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Preoccupied by a war with Muslims in Spain the royal couple placed Columbus on a salary for future work. After repeated pleading with the Crown, they finally financed the first voyage of exploration. In August of 1492 the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria set sail across the “ocean blue” and arrived in the Americas on October 12, 1492.
Growing up I remember studying the adventures of Christopher Columbus. My classroom would be decorated with the three ships commemorating his deeds. One year we memorized the poem 1492:
In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain; He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.
He sailed by night; he sailed by day; He used the stars to find his way.
A compass also helped him know How to find the way to go.
Ninety sailors were on board; Some men worked while others snored.
Then the workers went to sleep; And others watched the ocean deep.
Day after day they looked for land; They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand.
October 12 their dream came true, You never saw a happier crew!
“Indians! Indians!” Columbus cried; His heart was filled with joyful pride.
But “India” the land was not; It was the Bahamas, and it was hot.
The Arakawa natives were very nice; They gave the sailors food and spice.
Columbus sailed on to find some gold to bring back home, as he’d been told.
He made the trip again and again, trading for gold to bring to Spain.
The first American? No, not quite. But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.
Small groups of Italians began immigrating to the United States in the 1820s. Large scale immigration began in the 1880s. They brought pride of heritage and their Catholic faith when they arrived. They were the first group that really was different from earlier waves of immigrants. First generation Italian Americans did not assimilate as easily as earlier groups. Their language was different, their religion was different and they looked different. They were met with discrimination and hostility. The lynching of 11 innocent Sicilians in New Orleans in 1891 was by far the most heinous and brutal instance of the ethnic hatred the Italians faced. It was the largest mass lynching in the USA. The court had found the men innocent of murdering the police commissioner prior to the event. A New York Times editorial opined: “Yet while every good citizen will readily assent to the proposition that this affair is to be deplored, it would be difficult to find any one individual who would confess that privately he deplored it very much. ” http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/10/14/232120128/how-columb…;
(An interesting side bar is an article I found here. http://news.psu.edu/story/140775/2004/05/01/research/dark-legacy. The researcher-film maker Heather Hartley uncovered 50 killings of Italians in the US between 1885 and 1915. She also suggests several reasons for these occurrences.
“And it’s not the same thing as a hate crime,” she says. Rather, lynching is “the use of violence by a mob of three or more to injure or kill a person accused of a crime in order to prevent legal arrest, detention, trial, or punishment.” According to Cynthia Wilson, a curator of the Tuskegee archives who appears in the film, the definition turns on “due process of law denied, primarily because of race.”
The researcher also identified reasons for the discrimination of the Italians. As I said it is a side bar. But the perspective she brings to the immigrants plight is fascinating. She does not down play the brutality suffered by people of color during the same time frame. Interestingly she reveals that President Harrison eventually paid $25,000 in reparation to the Italian Government for the New Orleans’ lynching. )
By the President of the United States of America
Whereas by a joint resolution approved June 29, 1892, it was resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled–
That the President of the United States be authorized and directed to issue a proclamation recommending to the people the observance in all their localities of the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America, on the 21st of October, 1892, by public demonstrations and by suitable exercises in their schools and other places of assembly.
Now, therefore, I, Benjamin Harrison, President of the United States of America, in pursuance of the aforesaid joint resolution, do hereby appoint Friday, October 21, 1892, the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus, as a general holiday for the people of the United States. On that day let the people, so far as possible, cease from toil and devote themselves to such exercises as may best express honor to the discoverer and their appreciation of the great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life.
Columbus stood in his age as the pioneer of progress and enlightenment. The system of universal education is in our age the most prominent and salutary feature of the spirit of enlightenment, and it is peculiarly appropriate that the schools be made by the people the center of the day’s demonstration. Let the national flag float over every schoolhouse in the country and the exercises be such as shall impress upon our youth the patriotic duties of American citizenship.
In the churches and in the other places of assembly of the people let there be expressions of gratitude to Divine Providence for the devout faith of the discoverer and for the divine care and guidance which has directed our history and so abundantly blessed our people.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this 21st day of July, A.D. 1892, and of the Independence of the United States the one hundred and seventeenth.
By the President:
John W. Foster, Secretary of State.
Over time Italians promoted Columbus Day to highlight American Pride of their Italian ancestry in order counter the ethnic and religious discrimination they faced.
In 1906 Colorado became the first state to declare Columbus Day a state holiday. Angelo Noce, an Italian immigrant lobbied for its establishment. (http://books.google.com/books/about/Columbus_Day_in_Colorado.html?i…)
Many large cities and states began celebrating Columbus Day. Not all were eager to promote Columbus. Others felt the honor of First Explorer should go to Leif Erickson and promoted that holiday. The Viking came to Newfoundland, Canada, in 1000 AD. Today Leif Erickson Day is celebrated nationally on October 9th.
The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic Fraternal group, adopted the explorer as its patron when it was founded in 1882. According to their website the Knights chose Columbus as their patron “As a symbol that allegiance to their country did not conflict with allegiance to their faith…” http://www.kofc.org/en/about/history/
The Knights lobbied President Roosevelt to embrace Columbus Day as a Federal Holiday. In 1934 President Franklin Roosevelt declared Columbus Day a federal holiday.
Since 1971, Columbus Day has been celebrated by the federal government on the second Monday of October. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uniform_Monday_Holiday_Act
Today some question why we celebrate this man’s accomplishments when his conquest of the indigenous people of the New World brought the natives “only” disease, slavery, death and the destruction of their way of life. This argument is being played out in some of America’s major cities by celebrating “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”. Seattle is the latest city to march to new politically correct thinking. Is this rethinking a way to celebrate the peoples of the Americas or a way to hasten the removal the vestiges of truth to the exploration of Columbus and other historical figures. http://townhall.com/columnists/jerrynewcombe/2014/10/10/columbus-da… Read the Townhall article and share what you think below.