Despite Racial Justice Protests, Some Cling to Columbus Day

Oct 12, 2020

While many cities and towns have moved to observe the second Monday in October as Indiginous Peoples' Day, others still recognize the federal holiday as Columbus Day. The NAACP marked the day with a peaceful protest for the removal of a Christopher Columbus statue in Waterbury, Connecticut. Meanwhile, Italian Americans in Bridgeport celebrated Columbus with a parade.

The NAACP chapter of Greater Waterbury held a silent protest where a headless Christopher Columbus statue stands in front of Waterbury City Hall. The statue was beheaded back in July, in the middle of national and global racial justice protests that renewed controversy over the legacy of the Italian explorer, Columbus.

Columbus enslaved and killed Indingeous people in the West Indies and protesters say he’s a symbol of systemic racism. 

The controversy in Waterbury continued after the Italian-American community tried to raise money to restore the head. The statue is set to be repaired after the November election, but there is a referendum on the ballot asking if the statue should stay in front of city hall or be moved.

Similar debates continue elsewhere in Connecticut. Statues of Columbus were removed in New Haven’s Wooster Square and in Bridgeport’s Seaside Park in response to racial justice protests earlier this year. The cities have large Italian-American communities, and some see the statues and the holiday as ways to honor community contributions and the ways Italian Americans have overcome anti-immigrant discrimination.

New Haven Board of Alders voted to rename the October holiday at the end of the summer. Unlike 14 states and 130 towns and cities, Alders did not decide to acknowledge Indiginous Peoples Day. Instead, New Haven marked its first annual Italian Heritage Day.

Mayor Justin Elicker tweeted that the day is a moment to reflect on Italian Americans’ contributions to the city.

Some Italian-American groups in greater New Haven and Bridgeport planned to mark the federal holiday with parades, despite COVID-19. New Haven ultimately cancelled its march.

Paradegoers in Bridgeport laid a wreath in front of the empty podium where the Columbus statue once stood.