President Benjamin Harrison declared Oct. 12, 1892 “Columbus Day.” The back story echos contemporary themes of racism, unjust policing, and media-stoked mob violence.
Harrison’s Columbus Day proclamation was intended to be a one-time thing, honoring the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Western Hemisphere. Columbus Day might never have happened but for an international emergency. Harrison was trying “to help resolve a diplomatic crisis with Italy — and gain support among Italian American voters — after rioters in New Orleans lynched 11 Italian immigrants” in 1891, according to an article in the Washington Post.
This first Columbus Day also provided the spring board for efforts to get children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in schools across the country.Continue reading