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Discussions continue on the future of Columbus Day in Syracuse

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News (file photo)
Columbus Circle in downtown Syracuse

The City of Syracuse is one of the communities across the country grappling with the conflicted history of Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day. More than 100 communities have done away with it, replacing it with Indigenous People’s Day. But a community conversation may point the way toward how to deal with Columbus Day in the future.

A yearlong dialogue requested by Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, plunged participants into the weeds of the Columbus Day controversy, according to Beth Broadway of Interfaith Works. Participants looked for common ground, and that meant learning why Columbus Day came to be in the 1930s, when Italian Americans were widely persecuted.

"How do we build up the fact that Italian Americans are contributors to our society, they are important.  So Columbus, being Italian, and having 'discovered' America, it seemed like this was a great guy and he could be not only an Italian American hero, but an American hero," said Broadway.

That view didn’t take into account the crimes against indigenous people perpetrated by Columbus and subsequent Europeans, particularly the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, which destroyed native populations in central New York during the Revolutionary War.

"It was a horrible, horrible, horrible massacre of destroying the food sources, destroying the orchards, destroying the villages and of course killing the people," Broadway said.

Walsh has said that he doesn't plan to make any changes immediately. But Broadway said education of these different viewpoints is crucial to mapping the future of Columbus Day and the Columbus statue in Syracuse.

Ideas for the future that take that into account, include making Columbus Circle a heritage site that includes the current statue as well as displays that explain Haudenosaunee life and the genocide. 

Broadway said education should guide the way Syracuse makes a decision on Columbus Day going forward.

"Not vilify another person, not to try to convince them you are right, but rather to listen and understand, and out of that understanding, to become better as a people."

Columbus Day Report to Mayor 2019 by WRVO on Scribd

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.