St. Louisians Lead the Charge to Re-purpose "Columbus Day"... You Still Probably Won't Get the Day Off Though
Karl Frank Jr. was never comfortable celebrating Christopher Columbus' accidental discovery of America, and he certainly never cared for the mixed legacy Columbus left behind.
So today--the federal holiday created in 1939 by FDR to honor the Italian explorer and slave-wrangler who "sailed the ocean blue in 1492"--Frank and his friends are hoping to drum up interest in a campaign to re-purpose Columbus Day as a holiday that honors exploration, discovery and adventure.
"This would be a holiday that celebrates the past, but also looks toward our future," Frank tells Daily RFT. "We need to rekindle that exploratory spirit that we had in this country for so long."
Read up on his campaign and see petitions to the White House and Congress here.
Frank started thinking about a campaign to reframe Columbus Day last month in his living room, the day Neil Armstrong passed away.
"On the evening news there were all these comparisons between Armstrong and Christopher Columbus. I've always respected Columbus as a good explorer, a good sailor, but he was never someone I wanted to celebrate like Armstrong," Frank says, adding that he knows millions of Americans are similarly put off by ugly truths about Columbus.
"This has become a holiday that divides people," Frank says.
Celebrations for "indigenous people's day" started popping up in 1992 on the 200th anniversary of Columbus' "discovery" of America, after the
hippie paradise city council of Berkeley, CA officially recognized the holiday instead of Columbus Day.
22 states--including Missouri--do not give workers or students the day off for Columbus Day anymore, due in mixed part to Columbus' controversial legacy and lack of interest or funding. Three states do not recognize the federal holiday at all--including South Dakota, where citizens celebrate "Native American Day" in its place.
Indigenous People's Day is sometimes celebrated as a counter-holiday to Columbus Day, but Frank said he and his friends leading the push--Tom Diehl and Dr. Rod Wright--felt they'd have a better chance getting the White House or Congress to change Columbus Day to something more inclusive.
Frank says Native American groups have been supportive of "Exploration Day", as they also tie their roots back to ancestral explorers.
"Whether it's Indigenous People's day, Native American day or Exploration Day, I think Native American groups agree they just don't want it to be Columbus Day anymore," Frank says.
Missouri's history gave Frank and his friends the perfect setting to appreciate the frontier spririt. St. Louis was the starting point for the Lewis and Clark expedition and was also a rendezvous point for a host of famous explorers, including Pierre Laclede, Auguste Chouteau, La Salle, Louis Joliet, and Daniel Boone.
"We kind of view St. Louis as the Silicon Valley of 18th century exploration," Frank says.
Mayor Francis Slay seems to agree. This morning he queried followers on Twitter:
Columbus Day or Explorers Day? #fgs— MayorSlay.com (@MayorSlay) October 8, 2012