One of the worst episodes of racial violence in our country’s history occurred in New Orleans in 1891 when the city’s police chief, David Hennessy, was shot. As he lay dying in a dark street, when asked who shot him, he allegedly said, “the Dagos.”
Some 200 Italian immigrants were taken into custody, and nine of them were tried before a jury. None were found guilty. Despite that finding, they were all returned to the jail.
Political and business leaders in the community inflamed the deep-seated anti-Italian-immigrant sentiment that existed in New Orleans. A mob in excess of 5,000 people gathered in the town square, stormed the jail, and beat, shot and lynched 11 Italian immigrants. This was the largest mob to ever participate in a mass lynching in American history. Yet you will not read a single word about it in any of our school’s history books.
To fully understand how despised the immigrants were, The New York Times, and many other newspapers throughout the country, actually applauded the lynchings in their editorials. A future president, Teddy Roosevelt, stated that the lynchings “were a rather good thing.”
To hear many well-intentioned, but misinformed, Americans vilify Columbus because of contrived allegations that are not supported by primary source material is a desecration of our country’s history.
Many books have been published in recent years that debunk all of the lies and misinformation. The following books provide a truthful and accurate representation of Columbus’ heroic accomplishments and his honorable character: “Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem,” by Carol Delaney; “Debunking Howard Zinn,” by Mary Grabar; and “Christopher Columbus The Hero,” by Rafael.
Happy Columbus Day to all!
Basil M. Russo
President, Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations