History Nebraska Blog

Indigenous People Day and Columbus Day

In recent years some states, cities, and localities have augmented or replaced traditional observances of Columbus Day (now a federal holiday observed annually on the second Monday in October) to reflect the contributions of indigenous peoples as well as those of European explorers. The day is still a popular occasion for patriotic observances in schools.

Columbus Day, established to commemorate the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas on October 12, 1492, became a legal holiday in Nebraska in 1911. The bill creating it had been rejected by the Nebraska Legislature two years before and earlier in the session, and not everyone was happy about the new observance. Although banks and public offices were to be closed in Omaha, “the Board of Education failed to discover any reason why it should quit business because Columbus went out on a cruise 408 years ago and sighted land,” and the public schools remained open, although with special patriotic programs scheduled.

Aerial View of Omaha Little Italy
Aerial View of Omaha Little Italy, 1935

Columbus, the Nebraska town that shared a name with the new holiday, held no special observances on Columbus Day in 1911. However, the Italians of Lincoln planned to celebrate on October 12 with an evening banquet at the Lincoln Hotel. Attorney Edward G. Maggi, a member of the state board of pardons, was to be toastmaster. Nebraska governor Chester H. Aldrich sent a representative.

Italian Stone Worker in Omaha
Italian Stone Worker in Omaha, December 1940

Festivities were more elaborate in Omaha, with a larger Italian community, many of whom had settled in the city between 1880 and 1910 in an area known as “Little Italy,” generally bounded by Pacific Street on the north, Center Street on the south, the Missouri River on the east, and South Tenth Street on the west. In 1911 Columbus Day in Omaha included initiation rites and a banquet by the Knights of Columbus and observances by other Italian fraternal organizations. One, according to the Omaha Bee, was held at Columbus Hall, “decorated profusely with Italian, Spanish, and American flags, the Spanish flags paying honor to Spain which lent assistance to Columbus in his search for financial support.”

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