This week marks the 70th anniversary of the day when President Roosevelt proclaimed October 12th as “Colombus Day” in the United States. In 1971, President Nixon declared the second Monday of October a national holiday to celebrate the event. However, the first recorded celebration of the European discovery of America took place on October 12, 1792 in New York City, marking the 300th anniversary of Columbus landing in “America”. This event was organized by The Society of St. Tammany, or the Columbian Order.

In 1869, the Italian community in San Francisco organized a Columbus Day celebration. Then, in 1892, the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing, President Benjamin Harrison urged Americans to celebrate the day. They responded by organizing school programs, plays, and community festivities across the country. That year, the Pledge of Allegiance, written by Francis Bellamy, was recited for the first time. Other festivities followed such as   Columbus and the Discovery of America ballet by Imre Kiralfy as well as The World’s Columbian Exposition which opened in Chicago the summer of 1893.

 Individual state celebrations began with Colorado in April 1907. New York followed in 1909, and on October 12th of that year, New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes led a parade that included the crews of two Italian ships, several Italian-American societies, and legions of the Knights of Columbus. Then in 1937, President Roosevelt gave the holiday a national date.

Today, people celebrate with parades and time off for school-aged children and some businesses. The 500th anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery” was celebrated in 1992, though in the 1980s and 90s, Native American and revisionist historians criticized the holiday for glorifying the achievements of Spanish explorers who mistreated Native American tribes. Columbus saw himself as a missionary sent to spread Christianity in the New World.

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