When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, I always looked forward to the arrival of Columbus Day, which this year falls Oct. 11.
Because Columbus Day is a federal holiday that is observed on the second Monday of October, California schools were closed when I was a youngster and we had a three-day weekend. Columbus Day is also recognized as a state holiday in Nevada and several other states, and these states have the option to keep their schools open on Columbus Day.
Nevada has exercised this option, and thus its schools will be open on Columbus Day. But the state’s schools will be closed on Nevada Day, which falls on Friday, Oct. 29 this year. Nevada Day, as most of us know, commemorates Nevada’s admission to the Union as the 36th state on Oct. 31, 1864.
Columbus Day honors the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas, which occurred on Oct. 12, 1492, when he landed in the Bahamas Islands south of present-day Florida. Columbus, who also sailed to the Americas in 1493, 1498 and 1500, arrived off the Bahamian coast 529 years ago aboard the Santa Maria, his 62-foot flagship, which was accompanied by the smaller ships Nina and Pinta. Although an Italian by birth, his voyages and explorations were sponsored and paid for by Ferdinand, the king of Spain who, like Columbus, wanted to find a direct water route westward from Europe to Asia.
Despite his discoveries and voyages to the New World, Columbus, the exalted heroic figure in U.S. and world history, and the other European explorers from Great Britain, France and Portugal who followed him, today are being condemned by many American historians and political activists for the enslavement, rape, murder and the forced conversions of the native peoples to Christianity in the Americas and around the world.
Columbus and the other European explorers, sailors and soldiers have also been charged with the introduction of a host of new diseases which had dramatic, long-term adverse affects upon the health of the native peoples as did the back-breaking labor compelled of them by colonial settlers to work on their plantations and in their gold mines.
Protests at Columbus Day parades, efforts to eliminate Columbus from classroom curricula and calls for an end of Columbus Day as a national holiday began in the early 1990s, but following the May 25, 2020 police killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a Black man, millions of Americans across the nation were galvanized to seek justice for all racial and ethnic minorities, and this movement has included the toppling and beheading of nearly 40 statues of Columbus as well as countless statues and memorials honoring Confederate military leaders and politicians. Columbus Day has been replaced by Native American and Indigenous Peoples Day in more than 60 cities and several states that include Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii and South Dakota.
One of these cities is Reno, when in early September 2019, its city council adopted a resolution that ended its annual official recognition of Columbus Day, opting instead to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day as its replacement.
How far the racial justice movement will succeed remains to be seen. Activists have been able to rename U.S. military posts, universities and schools that bore the names of Confederate leaders and others perceived to be racists. Will the nation’s capital be renamed because George Washington was a slaveholder? Will Thanksgiving also be abolished as a national holiday because of the long and bloody history of conflict between Native Americans and the British settlers that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Native Americans? Again, no one can predict the future of the growing movement that seeks to end racial and ethnic injustices in America.
David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.