DOWNTOWN — Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Friday that she will not back an effort to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day as an official city holiday.
“I absolutely have no plans to support any elimination of Columbus Day at the city level,” Lightfoot said.
The Chicago Board of Education voted Wednesday to change the official holiday observed by schools on the second Monday of October from Columbus Day, honoring the Italian explorer, to Indigenous Peoples Day, to recognize that his arrival touched off a genocide of indigenous people.
Lightfoot said the schools had celebrated both holidays for a number of years, and that the change made sense.
However, the city will not be following suit, Lightfoot said at an unrelated event to announce new crime fighting measures for the Chicago Transit Authority.
Lightfoot said there was more the city could do to “elevate the history of indigenous people” in Chicago.
“They are a marginalized community,” Lightfoot said. “There is a lot more we can do to be aware and sensitive of the history.”
In 2016, the City Council passed a resolution [R2016-688] recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day, but that was only a ceremonial measure.
Chicagoans have called for Columbus Drive to be renamed and some have repeatedly vandalized a statue of Columbus.
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38) said he was incensed by the decision by the Board of Education, whose members are appointed by Lightfoot.
The move amounts to “erasing history,” Sposato said, vowing to marshal an effort to reverse the decision.
“This isn’t the end of it,” Sposato said.
Columbus Day marks the contributions of Columbus, who claimed to have discovered America on Oct. 12, 1492 — even though it was already populated.
The Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans President Sergio Giangrande called the CPS decision “a slap in the face of the more than 500-thousand Italian Americans in Chicago.”
“The historical legacy of any individual is and should be subject to debate,” Giangrande said. “That debate should not give license to the wholesale removal of a symbol indemnity that was a beacon of hope for millions of maligned Italians who helped create the beauty of this country.”
When Lightfoot vowed in a speech on Feb. 14 to end poverty in Chicago within a generation, she called out past Chicago leaders for failing to atone for the crimes committed against the first residents of what would become Chicago.
“Here in Chicago, we must highlight and embrace the legacy of the Council of the Three Fires and teach our children about the United Nations of Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi Indians so that they know more than the story of Ft. Dearborn,” Lightfoot said.
In 2018, an effort by Alds. Sophia King (4) and Brendan Reilly (42) to rename Balbo Drive for Civil Rights icon and investigative reporter Ida B. Wells ignited a similar firestorm and was ultimately scrapped.
Italo Balbo, a marshal in the Italian Air Force Marshal, rose to fame after he made the first transatlantic crossing from Rome to Chicago. He also helped fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to power in 1922 and served as a high-ranking official in his air force.
The City Council voted unanimously to rename Congress Parkway for Wells a few months after the controversy, which prompted members of Chicago’s Italian American community to threaten to unseat Reilly. However, his 2019 bid for re-election was unopposed.
Block Club Chicago’s Kelly Bauer contributed to this report.