The 50-foot Christopher Columbus monument in Schenley Park was built by Italian-born Pittsburgh resident Frank Vittor in 1958. (Photo credit: Piotrus)
By: ISDA Staff
Dozens of Italian immigrants were rounded up without just cause in 1890 following the murder of New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy.
Nineteen immigrants were indicted and nine went to trial, resulting in six acquittals and three mistrials.
About 10,000 people, enraged by the judicial outcome, gathered outside of Parish Prison where the immigrants were being held. A group of armed men stormed the prison, and 11 Italians were clubbed, hanged and torn apart by the crowd on March 14, 1891.
It was the largest mass lynching in American history.
Several major newspapers, including The New York Times, sympathized with the lynch mob as widespread racism against Italians hit a nightmarish peak.
In response, President Benjamin Harrison — facing an intense outcry from the Italian government — held a national celebration of Christopher Columbus in 1892 that marked the 400th anniversary of the explorer’s historic discovery of North America.
From that point forward Italian immigrants across the U.S. used the Genovese explorer as a unifying symbol, and beat back waves of discrimination that sought to break Italian culture in America.
Sprawling parades were held, towering statues were built, and in 1937 Columbus Day became a national holiday to both honor the explorer’s achievements and celebrate Italian American heritage.
Save the Schenley Park Columbus Statue
Today, protesters — who are likely unaware of our story — instead rely on a loose and incoherent understanding of American and world history to push their false narratives.
And frankly, these misinformed activists should be ashamed and held accountable for the Columbus statue destruction and vandalism across the nation.
The Pittsburgh Art Commission will soon decide the fate of the Columbus statue in Schenley Park, and we’re urging our readers and members to make their voices heard before another piece of our history is erased from the American landscape.
The next art commission meeting will be held on Aug. 26 at 2 p.m.
Click here and select how you’d like to participate during the meeting.
Feel free to use the following message in your correspondence or comments to the art commission, which can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
To the Pittsburgh Art Commission:
The assault against Christopher Columbus statues must end.
For months, members of the Italian American community have watched in disbelief as protesters have either toppled or vandalized Columbus monuments throughout the country with little resistance from police or city leadership.
Columbus Day was recognized in 1892 by President Benjamin Harrison to push back against the fierce prejudice and widespread violence Italian Americans faced at the time. The mass lynching of 11 Italian Americans in New Orleans in 1891 prompted the creation of the holiday.
The statues and parades symbolize unity and a fight against discrimination, and we refuse to have this history hijacked by lawless protesters.
We urge you to save this statue, and preserve our history and heritage that we fought and died for.
Please cc one or more of the following city leaders to your email, and inform these officials about the meaning behind Columbus Day.
Pittsburgh City Council/Mayor contacts:
Office of Mayor William Peduto
Mailing address: 414 Grant Street, 5th Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Councilman Bobby Wilson
Council President Theresa Kail-Smith
Councilman Bruce Kraus
Councilman Anthony Coghill
Councilman Corey O’Connor
Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle
Councilwoman Deb Gross
Councilperson Erika Strassburger
Councilman Rev. Ricky V. Burgess
For the complete list of city leadership contacts, click here.