A scheduled public hearing on Thursday, Oct. 5, just a few days ahead of Columbus Day, will help determine whether statues are erected honoring native Washingtonian women and people of color in the District.
Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie and At-Large Councilman Robert White introduced legislation earlier this year that would instruct the Commemorative Works Commission to erect statues in each of the city’s eight wards that highlight native Washingtonians who are women or people of color.
It would allow the council to sponsor a commemorative work on public space in the District and would make the inaugural statue a memorial to honor Charles Hamilton Houston, a D.C. native and graduate of Dunbar High School.
Houston led the law program at Howard University and then went on to serve as special counsel for the NAACP, where he laid the legal foundation that would dismantle the American system of segregation.
The hearings come as some in the District said they’d like to consider what Los Angeles and other cities have done to rename Columbus Day and instead honor Native Americans with that holiday.
“I’m OK with the elimination of Columbus Day,” said Ward 7 Councilman Vincent Gray. “I never thought it was a day that had all that much significance to people in this country in the first place and Columbus didn’t really discover America.”
If District lawmakers decide to eliminate the holiday honoring the famous explorer, it would sit just fine with Gray.
“I’m fine with the elimination of the holiday, but the problem you have is taking away the holiday from people who have come to expect it,” Gray said.
Earlier, Los Angeles became the largest city in the country to remove Columbus Day as an official city holiday, replacing it with “Indigenous Peoples Day.”
Los Angeles, which has one of the nation’s largest populations of Native Americans, joins other municipalities including Berkeley, Seattle and Denver that have adopted Indigenous Peoples Day, according to published reports.
The change eliminates a holiday that many Native American activist groups and others have deemed offensive. Beginning in 2019, the second Monday of October, a paid holiday for Los Angeles employees, will now be called “Indigenous Peoples Day.”
“The historical record is unambiguous in documenting the horrors Christopher Columbus and his men exacted on the native peoples he encountered,” Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, a member of the Wyandotte Nation, said in a statement prior to the council voting 14-1 in favor of the change.
The debate over Confederate monuments intensified last month after a White supremacist rally in Charlottesville turned violent and deadly.
The Columbus Day movement has also spread to St. Paul, Minnesota, where an effort has started to replace a statue of Columbus with a monument celebrating Minneapolis-born Prince, the late music legend.
Efforts to eliminate Columbus Day also comes as lawmakers and political leaders around the country have moved to take down Confederate statues, including a push in D.C. to remove a statue of Albert Pike, a Confederate general and noted Freemason that stands on a pedestal near the foot of Capitol Hill, between the Department of Labor and Municipal buildings in Northwest.
There’s also a movement locally to take down a stained-glass Confederate memorial at the Washington National Cathedral that honors Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Local officials have also expressed a desire to rid the U.S. Capitol’s National Sanctuary Hall Collection of more than a dozen statues depicting Confederate figures.
While there’s no word yet on whether District officials now will consider a push to end the observance of Columbus Day, officials continue their efforts to rid the city of Confederate monuments.
“Across the South, cities are removing outdoor statues of Confederate leaders,” said LaToya Foster, spokeswoman for Mayor Muriel Bowser. “Here in the nation’s capital, there is one on National Park Service land. We believe the National Park Service should remove the Pike statue and seek public input on which historical figure should replace it.”
Several other District council members have also called for the removal of the Pike statue.
“Now is the time to end racism and bigotry,” said Ward 5 Councilwoman Anita Bonds. “This is a time to look at all monuments that go against the fabric of America’s democracy and justice for all. We need to begin with our public institutions and parks. Hate does not belong on public display.”