26 states have cast aside Columbus Day — This NJ town may be next
Half of U.S. states no longer observe Columbus Day 81 years after it was established as a federal holiday.
A small borough in Bergen County may be the next to join the growing list of states and cities that have ditched the holiday in favor of celebrating the people who lived in the Americas long before the European explorer made his way across the Atlantic.
Glen Rock officials have been debating changing the holiday to Indigenous People’s Day, NorthJersey.com reported.
“It’s important for us to honor our history and be honest,” Councilwoman Amy Martin was quoted as saying at a recent council meeting.
While Columbus Day is often seen as a day to honor Christopher Columbus, and had been celebrated in the United States as far back as the late 1790s, it was Italian Americans who lobbied for making it an official national holiday, finally succeeding in 1937.
While people of Italian descent today are seen as white, up through the 20th Century, Italian Americans faced discrimination and were seen by white supremacists as undesirable immigrants. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan opposed making Columbus Day a holiday.
Today, the movement against the holiday is based on a reassessment of Columbus. When his ships landed on the island he named Hispaniola in 1492, his crew enslaved the natives on behalf of the king and queen of Spain. Natives who weren’t worked to death died of contagious diseases.
Celebrations of the day today are more about Italian heritage than of its namesake. The New Jersey-based Italian American One Voice Coalition supports keeping the holiday and is lobbying officials in Glen Rock. About 25% of the borough’s 12,000 residents are of Italian descent, according to Census data. The state has more than 1.45 million residents of Italian heritage.
Dozens of cities across the country have already renamed Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day, or something equivalent.
The governors of Vermont and Maine are expected to sign laws replacing the day with Indigenous People’s Day this year.
On Thursday, the governor of Oklahoma – the first U.S. governor who is a member of a Native American tribe – signed a law that moved Native American Day from November to Columbus Day, although Columbus Day was not previously a state holiday anyway. The governor called the move a compromise.
Iowa last year renamed the day Indigenous People’s Day.
Alaska’s governor signed a law in 2017 to rename it Indigenous People’s Day two years after unofficially making the change.
South Dakota, where a tenth of the population is Native American, renamed the holiday Native Americans’ Day in 1990.
Hawaii renamed it Discoverer’s Day in 1988 and doesn’t recognize the day as a state holiday.
And while federal offices may close, the day is not considered an official state holiday in Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.
In Wisconsin, the day is observed by schools but not by the state.
In Tennessee, the day is not a set holiday but the governor has the authority to substitute it for so-called Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, in order to give state workers a four-day weekend.
Kansas lawmakers this year proposed changing the name to Indigenous People’s Day.
Nevada stopped recognizing Columbus Day in 1992 and in 2017 proposed renaming it Indigenous People’s Day.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.