Effort to Rename Columbus Day is Stalled; Statue Still Awaits Historical Markers

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One year after Brooklyn Assemblymember Charles Barron introduced a bill to rename Columbus Day in New York as Indigenous People’s Day, the legislation remains stalled in committee.

The State Assembly doesn’t meet until January, but Barron says he remains committed to advancing his legislation in the upcoming term.

“This upcoming Columbus Day is a reminder that Columbus was not a hero, he was a savage murderer of Indigenous people so-called Indians, and African people who he enslaved,” Barron said in a statement. “He was a colonizer of the Hispaniola Island, where he tortured and enslaved African and Indigenous people.”

The Assemblymember faces an uphill battle given the that Governor Andrew Cuomo has stated staunch support for the holiday, as Columbus has long been a figure of pride for New York’s Italian-American community.

The debate surrounding Columbus’s legacy goes back years but it regained prominence last fall after a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. around a statue of General Robert E. Lee prompted many communities and leaders across the country to re-examine public symbols.

Last September, Mayor Bill de Blasio created a city commission to determine a city strategy for grappling with offensive and problematic monuments.

In its January report, it specifically addressed the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle and noted that some members advocated for removing the monument altogether in order to foster public dialogue. It ultimately called for keeping the statue in place and instead adding historical makers.

The commission’s report also noted that its members were divided on renaming Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day but stated unanimous support for an annual recognition of indigenous peoples.

Following the report, the mayor announced the Columbus statue would stay in place with the addition of historical markers. According to Ryan Max, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the historical markers around the Columbus statue remain a work in progress.

Max said that the department is also actively engaging the city’s Native American community about creating a monument to indigenous peoples.

Cities across the country including Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, Austin as well as the states of South Dakota and Hawaii have renamed Monday’s holiday to honor Native Americans.


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