In late 1994 the United Nations declared Aug. 9 as International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and four years prior, Berkeley, Calif., had already become the first U.S. city to replace Columbus Day. Last month Los Angeles joined Denver, Minneapolis, Phoenix and Seattle, among other cities, in recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day. And this Oct. 5, Austin, Texas, did the same.
Several dozen grassroots activists withstood the drizzling rain this past Monday while attending a noon-time news conference at the foot of the imperialistic statue which stands in the center of midtown Manhattan’s Columbus Circle. A cadre of cops intently observed while several supporters, as well as media personnel, convened on the small circular concrete island which merges Broadway, Eighth Avenue and 59th Street.
The gathering, orchestrated by “Black Power” couple Assemblyman Charles Barron and his wife Councilwoman Inez Barron was utilized to demand that the 125-year-old bronze statue representing the 15th-century exploiter be removed, as well as to announce that they have proposed state legislation to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
“Columbus is not a hero, he’s a murderer, a colonizer, a racist who enslaved Africans and slaughtered indigenous people, and he should not be glorified or honored. He deserves scorn, not glorification,” Mr. Barron explained. “This land that all of us inhabit is stolen land—stolen from the indigenous people who were slaughtered and forced onto reservations. They should be recognized in place of Columbus Day.”
The recent unrest in Charlottesville, Va., heightened awareness nationally regarding several Jim Crow-era “symbols of hate” that still exist today. Progressive activists are demanding that portraits and statues representative of chattel slavery, colonialism and oppression of Africans and indigenous Americans, which reflected the prevalent mindset of the imperialists from that time period, be removed.
A former public school principal, Mrs. Barron suggested that an “accurate Columbus school curriculum” be taught, as well as that of the history of Native Americans.
“We need to tell their story,” she urged. “That there were people already here, that they were massacred, they were deliberately infected with disease.”
Her husband added, “As we say, Columbus only discovered that he was lost. He never discovered anything else. He called everybody Indians because he was looking for India. Not only did Columbus not discover America, some historians say he never even stepped foot on American soil.”
Mr. Barron introduced Bill A8676 last month, proposing the revolutionary reform. It gets pushed through the committee process in January.
It reads, “Indigenous Peoples’ Day reimagines Columbus Day and changes a celebration of colonialism into an opportunity to reveal historical truths about the genocide and oppression of indigenous people in the Americas, to organize against current injustices and to celebrate indigenous resistance. Renaming the holiday is a small beginning in recognizing indigenous people for their historic ongoing contributions to history, culture and economic life.”
The progressive Assemblyman ripped up a “threatening political letter” from the Columbus Citizens Foundation, to the crowd’s applause.
Protestors gathered later Monday at the American Museum of Natural History, continuing their call for the reform.
“It’s time for us as good citizens, as conscious citizens, to put pressure on the political powers that be,” urged Tyrik Washington, of Operation P.O.W.E.R.
Native American activists have advocated abolishing Columbus Day for many decades, saying Columbus is the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in the Western Hemisphere.
Historians concur that Columbus is responsible for massacring millions of Native Americans almost to the point of extinction, and also initiated the African holocaust.
In August a Yonkers-area Columbus statue was beheaded in Columbus Memorial Park, and another one in Central Park was vandalized and had “Hate will not be tolerated” scrawled on its pedestal.
“Not only should the Columbus statues come down, but also the statues of Thomas Jefferson…and George Washington,” Barron urged.