Celebrating Columbus Day in a year of racial reckoning and protest

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Monday, October 12, 2020
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It's an annual tradition for the Sons of Italy in Hammonton, New Jersey: Celebrating Columbus Day, and honoring local families of Italian descent.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- It's an annual tradition for the Sons of Italy in Hammonton, New Jersey: Celebrating Columbus Day, and honoring local families of Italian descent.

"It's a great celebration where we continue to celebrate our Italian heritage and honor Columbus of course," said club president Nick LaGuardia.

Guests were allowed to visit the bust of explorer Christopher Columbus inside the lodge in small groups, due to the pandemic. The sculpture is usually displayed in public but was moved inside the year to prevent vandalism.

Action News spoke to the daughter of the late local artist who made the sculpture almost 30 years ago.

"I was afraid of it getting vandalized and that really would have broken my heart," said Kimberly Sakowicz of Hammonton.

But this summer, amid protests and calls for racial justice some Columbus statues were vandalized like the one in Trenton, which was eventually removed. In Atlantic City and Cooper River Park in Pennsauken, statues were relocated too.

The statue in South Philadelphia's Marconi Plaza remains boxed as plans are made for its relocation.

RELATED: Motion filed after Philadelphia Art commission votes to remove Christopher Columbus statue, place it in temporary storage

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani stopped by the statue Monday morning to speak to supporters of President Donald Trump.

City officials say they plan on removing the statue. A group supporting the statue is taking legal action which has placed a temporary stay on its removal.

Mayor Jim Kenney tweeted today that he's gotten questions about Philadelphia's observance of Columbus Day given the controversy over the statue.

He says all holidays are agreed upon with municipal unions and any changes have to be negotiated. He says his administration is open to making changes.

Critics of the holiday say the Italian explorer mistreated indigenous people and stole their land.

"Columbus the person wasn't very heroic. He specifically enslaved native people. He allowed soldiers to commit violent and sexual atrocities on them," said Dr. Katherine Turner, a professor of U.S. history and American studies at Rowan University.

She says starting in the 1960's people began to re-think history as more people of color became more involved in academia. She says history should not be erased, but rather expanded to be more inclusive.

She says as that happens, more people are choosing to incorporate Indigenous People's Day into their calendars. Some states have started celebrating Indigenous People's Day instead of - or along with - Columbus Day.

"When you become an American embrace the history and democracy and freedom and liberties that we have but you also have to acknowledge and injustice and suffering," said Turner.