Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy Columbus Day!

Walter Russell Mead explains why Columbus Day has nothing to do with celebrating genocide [and very little to do with Columbus]:
.... In American history, the fight to make a holiday on Columbus Day actually had almost nothing to do with the actual arrival of Christopher Columbus in the western hemisphere. It wasn’t about celebrating the European conquest of the Americas or the extirpation of the native tribes. ....

Back in the 1930s there was a widespread feeling among both Protestant and Catholic Americans that Roman Catholics, and especially Catholics from non-English speaking countries, were not and could not be ‘real Americans’. Al Smith, the popular governor of New York, was the first Roman Catholic ever nominated for the presidency by a major party; suspicion of his religion made his defeat even greater than usual, as many solidly Democratic and pro-Prohibition voters in the South deserted the Catholic “wet” to vote for the reliably dry Protestant, Herbert Hoover.

For the KKK in those days, Catholics were one of the foreign influences that ‘real’ Americans had to fight, and many Protestant whites still considered Italians, Greeks and other southern European ethnic groups to be too ‘swarthy’ to be fully white. ....

The Italian-Americans were the largest and most powerful Catholic ethnic group that still felt themselves to be uneasily outside the American mainstream. They were (and are) swing voters; especially in FDR’s home state of New York Italian-Americans (partly out of old rivalries with the Irish) are often Republicans.

The Knights of Columbus was founded in 1882 in New Haven, Connecticut as a Catholic fraternal organization. Catholics were forbidden by Rome to join the Freemasons, and other fraternal groups at that time in the US barred Catholics from membership. ....

The Knights of Columbus filled a need and quickly became a national organization. Membership in the organization was a way for Catholics to help themselves and their community, to assert their identity as Catholics, and also to move into the culture of civic activism and voluntary associations that is a hallmark of traditional Anglo-Protestant social organization in both the UK and the US. ....

The order was controversial; in 1912 claims that the fourth degree knights had to swear an oath to exterminate Freemasons and Protestants became widespread, and the charges figured in the 1928 campaign against Al Smith. When the Episcopalian Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1932, the lobbying by the Knights of Columbus and Italian-American organizations and lobbies to make Columbus Day a national holiday grew intense, and FDR signed a bill to make October 12 a holiday in 1934.

Columbus Day is not an imperialistic holiday. It is a celebration of American diversity, a long overdue recognition of the importance of Catholics and immigrants in American life. It is a celebration we share with our Hispanic neighbors in the New World and it is a day that testifies to our growing understanding that religious and ethnic pluralism aren’t problems for our American heritage; pluralism is central to our identity as a people.

That American Indian activists want to use the day to make a point is OK with me; they have a point to make. But Columbus Day is a holiday that was created to celebrate the dignity and equality of Americans regardless of origin or creed, and that in my view is an excellent reason for the country to take the day off. ....
For some reason I had always assumed that Al Smith was Irish. Not true:
Alfred E. Smith, aka Alfred Emanuele Ferrara, was first Italian-American Presidential candidate.
Happy Columbus Day (Observed) | Via Meadia, In Honor of Columbus Day | Strange Herring