Courtesy of Brandon Scott/City Council
Courtesy of Brandon Scott/City Council

Many Baltimoreans likely got to stay home from work yesterday in celebration of Columbus Day. City Councilman Brandon Scott and many others who protest the day each year take issue with that – but don’t worry, they don’t necessarily want to take away your day off.

In a Facebook post on Monday morning, Scott compared Columbus to Osama bin Laden and said Baltimore must cease celebrating his legacy. “We must teach our children the truth about our history even when its [sic.] dark and correct it when possible,” he wrote.

Scott, who represents a swath of Northeast Baltimore and other neighborhoods in District 2, was referring to the controversial history surrounding famed explorer Christopher Columbus. Columbus is credited with being one of the first European explorers to set foot in and bring trade to North America. But he has also been accused of bring a genocidal invasion of the continent that killed millions of indigenous peoples already living here before his arrival.

A number of cities have already replaced the holiday honoring the explorer with “Indigenous Peoples Day.” Berkeley, Calif., started the movement, according to Smithsonian Magazine, though Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver, Phoenix, all of Vermont and others have made the same change. States with strong native populations have also refused to celebrate the day.

Scott said in his post that he plans to formally introduce legislation at the next City Council meeting to do exactly that. He concluded, “Changing to Indigenous Peoples Day is the historical, moral and American thing to do!”

The decision is likely to upset any defenders of the Italian explorer’s historical legacy here in Baltimore. We’ll keep you posted on any fireworks stemming from Councilman Scott’s proposal in the Council chambers.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...

One reply on “City Councilman Brandon Scott Wants To Replace Columbus Day”

  1. On behalf of the Commission for Social Justice, the anti-defamation arm of the Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA), I would like to express our regret that legislation is being prepared for submission to the Baltimore City Council to designate the second Monday of October—the federal Columbus Day holiday—as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. OSIA is the largest organization of Italian Americans. Our mission is to promote the Italian culture, heritage, and contributions that our ancestors have made to this great country and the world. We are disappointed at the recent national trend that seeks to implement any measure that discredits Christopher Columbus and, in effect, slight the contributions that Italian Americans have made to this country and the development of western civilization as a whole.
    Since 1937, Columbus Day has been a federally recognized holiday that celebrates a world-changing vision. In 1492, following the rise of the Ottoman Empire, which made it virtually impossible for Europeans to trade with Asia, it was Columbus who set out West in hopes of finding a new path East. Although it is generally understood that Christopher Columbus was not the first person to step foot on American soil, it goes without saying that his voyage is the one that changed the world. It was he who opened up a new land of opportunity to the oppressed masses of Europe. His arrival marks the time in history when Europeans began to make important worldly contributions, such as those in arts, law, government, and economics that have become the basic foundations of this great nation. It is for those contributions that the United States government recognized our favorite son of Genoa, Italy.
    For Italian Americans, as well as other immigrant groups who came over as oppressed masses in the early 20th century, it was Columbus who served as their champion and gave them hope of a new life, one with opportunity. Thus, for Americans of Italian descent, Columbus Day serves as an opportunity to celebrate our ancestors and the struggles they overcame to assimilate into American culture. Now it appears that other special interest groups are trying to take away the symbol of their very identity and the contributions they have made since the early 1900s.
    There are certainly questionable conflicting historical facts surrounding Christopher Columbus and his colonization of the Americas. I understand that this was a push by Native American groups to demonize Columbus as a slave trader who spread disease among the indigenous peoples. They proclaim the same skewed arguments that Howard Zinn presented in his one-sided tale of Columbus in A People’s History of the United States. Zinn’s story, as well as the story of the modern-day American Indian, presents an overly simplistic view that is completely out of context to the time in which he lived. Surely you, as Baltimore City Councilman, realize the conundrum of applying a 21st century understanding of morality to the people of the 15th century.
    Though we recognize that gruesome incidents took place and cannot be condoned, this was no different from how Europeans treated other Europeans or Native Americans treated other Native Americans at that point in time. Today’s concept of individual rights was simply nonexistent during the 15th century. Do special interest groups also plan on desecrating George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and our forefathers at large for owning slaves their entire lives?
    We are in full support of recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day. But why must it replace Columbus Day? With only 12 recognized federal holidays that leaves 353 possible days to recognize the contributions of Native Americans. Though we are in full support of this, it is equally unjust to take away from Italian Americans a day that represents their roots, history and contributions to this country. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed these sentiments best when he stated: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
    I hope that you consider proclaiming Indigenous Peoples’ Day—recognizing contributions of indigenous people to this great nation and your county—on a day other than Columbus Day.

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