It is difficult to imagine what Christopher Columbus faced as he crossed the Atlantic in search of what he thought was a route to Asia. The hardship and danger was immense. If things went awry, there would be nothing to save his little flotilla besides hope, courage and prayer.
Americans marveled at what seemed like an unbelievably courageous voyage across unknown waters with the limited tools and maps of the 15th century.
Those coming to the new world found a hero in Columbus, who had challenged the unknown seas, leaving the old world for a new beginning in a virgin continent. The colonies in the new world became known as Columbia in honor of Columbus.
George Washington named the land where the capital is located, “The Territory of Columbia” later changed to the District of Columbia.
Following the American Revolution, Columbia, the feminine counterpart to Christopher Columbus, emerged as the first Lady Liberty. Columbia was dressed in classical robes and a liberty cap, often decorated with the stars and stripes of America.
King’s College in New York changed its name to Columbia College in 1784 — for the purpose of showing “the glorification of America” — and South Carolina made its capital city “Columbia.” The Star-Spangled Banner became the official national anthem in 1931. Before that, “Hail Columbia” had served as an unofficial anthem.
In the early 19th century, immigration patterns shifted to Southern Europe, bringing in many Italian immigrants. They identified with Columbus, who, like them, was Italian and Catholic and credited with discovering the new world.
Late in the 1800s, Italians and Catholics found themselves targets of anti-immigration and anti-Catholic discrimination. Parts of New Orleans had become known as “Little Palermo,” dominated by Italian merchants. Their success led to racial tensions with the largest mass hanging in the history of the United States when 11 Italians were lynched.
The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic American fraternal organization, who adopted the Columbus name fought discrimination against struggling immigrants. The K.C. at the time, an organization with a large Italian, Roman Catholic membership, lobbied to make Columbus Day a reality.
In 1892, on the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing, President Benjamin Harrison issued the first official proclamation in celebration of the day.
A hundred years later, we are again fighting this same battle that was earlier won over sweat and blood.
Statues serve as a reminder, they are only art appreciated by most people and protected by law. When we allow them to be defaced or destroyed, those who are trusted to govern are instead allowing mob rule to replace law and order.
When we no longer have the capacity to celebrate men like Columbus, imperfect as he may have been, we lose some of what made America great.
Where will it end and when all these monuments that some declare offensive are gone, what monuments and symbols will replace them? Will these new monuments bring unity or will they speed up America becoming a more divided multi-cultured society?