As a country, we must seek to look for the best in others and that includes understanding that we all seek to honor our ancestors. My maternal grandfather was a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus. By 1934, the Knights had done so much for America that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a Federal Holiday. The Knights continue philanthropy. In 2018 The Knights gave $185 million to charity and performed over 75 million man-hours of voluntary service.
Contributing to the Columbus Day effort
was Italian immigrant Generoso Pope.
Pope arrived from Italy in 1906 at age fifteen. He became owner of Colonial Sand & Stone and a
Knights were founded in 1891 to provide financial security for widows and
orphans. When WWI started, the older Knights established warming huts for
soldiers behind enemy lines.
the war, the Knights re-published books by the NAACP founder W.E.B. Debois
titled “The Gift of Black Folk,” and The Jews in the Making of America by George
Cohen. During this time period the KKK, which opposed Catholics, opposed the
show of commitment to America, Italians in New York in 1892 erected the
Columbus Circle Monument. This support
followed the 1891 Italian Lynching in New Orleans. Every year, a wreath is
placed on that statue in honor of those lynched.
braved the ocean seeking a safer trade route which opened immigration. The Barbary Coast Pirates of North Africa were
capturing residents and sailors from the seaside towns of Italy, Spain, and
France and selling them into slavery or holding them for ransom. Columbus’s
ship was attacked by pirates and sunk in 1476. He survived by swimming ashore.
On September 8,
1762 Barbary Coast pirates from Tripoli captured almost the whole village of
Ustica, Sicily. By 1800 over 1,000,000
Europeans had been captured and sold. Thus, Columbus
was chosen by the Sicilians and Italians in America as having paved a way for
them to migrate. Many settled in
Ascension Parish to cut sugar cane on the lands once inhabited by the Houmas
Nation. Members of Louisiana’s large Sicilian community favor the new Great
River Road Museum’s exhibits showcase both Sicilian and Indigenous cultures.
of Italian and Sicilian erected two monuments in the 1990s. One of Columbus in
Baton Rouge and one of immigrants in New Orleans.
support the concept of Indigenous People’s Day and hope that it will be on a
different weekend so that we can participate in activities that honor their heritage
as we offer for them to participate in our activities. On Columbus Day the nation should reflect on
the reason why FDR elected to recognize those that practice philanthropy and
work to end racism.
The 2,180 word opinion by Brent
Staples titled “How Italians became ‘White’“ is 30% truth, 30% false, and
leaves out 40% of the pertinent facts. In his closing paragraphs Mr. Staples writes:
“… the full-blown Columbus myth was yet to come.” The second to last paragraph
opens with “Facts aside.” His closing words are “highly politicized myth
Several readers have asked us to
comment on the article. Staples opens
with his theory of Italian immigrants seeking to become “white.” That is
incorrect, Italians sought to become “Americans.”
concludes with the concept that Italian Immigrants “piles myth upon myth” and
‘rewrote history by casting Columbus as “the first immigrant” to our become Americans.
He describes this myth: “that Columbus “discovered”
a continent that was already inhabited by Native Americans.”
American-Italians provided centuries
of hard work for America and philanthropy to America. We became part of the
fabric of America. That is the secret to
our success and how we became accepted by other cultures with greater numbers
Significant Historical errors and Omissions to
the Brent Staples New York Times Opinion Piece:
Omitting the 1792
Celebration, President FDR’s role in Columbus Day, and other Recognitions
A third of the way through Staples’ piece, he
states: “Few who march in Columbus Day parades …. are aware of how the holiday
came about or that President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed
it as a one-time national celebration in 1892- in
the wake of a bloody New Orleans lynching that took the lives of 11 Italian
Staples makes no mention of President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress declaring Columbus Day in 1937 to
recognize the patriotic and philanthropic deeds of the Knights of Columbus and
Generoso Pope of New York.
Staples omits informing the reader
that in 1792, America celebrated the 300th anniversary of Columbus
landing on the continent. In that
year, the Tammany Society in New York City which
was also known as the Columbian Order began an celebrating Columbus Day
annually. The Massachusetts
Historical Society in Boston also celebrated the 300th
anniversary of Columbus’ landing
In 1812, Columbus Ohio was founded to
honor the explorer Christopher Columbus. Today the Columbus Zoo is revered
throughout the world.
the 1850s, Genoese immigrants, some of whom had settled along the Sierra
foothills in California, took up the holiday. Italian-Americans in San
Francisco have celebrated Columbus Day since 1869.
teachers, preachers, poets and politicians utilized Columbus Day’s patriotic
rituals to advocate the importance of loyalty to the nation and to celebrate
American social and economic progress. It was in 1892, that a Francis Bellamy,
a teacher wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge we say today, is very similar to a
desegregation chant PGT Beauregard drafted in 1873 for the Unification Movement
of Louisiana. Beauregard was 25% Italian.
Staples writes: “that President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed
it as a one-time national celebration in 1892.” How could any President give orders to only celebrate
anything “one time,” especially when Americans were already celebrating
Columbus and Columbus Day for over 100 years.
If this is the case, then only a year later American’s violated
Harrison’s decree with President FDR making that violation permanent.
Dedication ceremonies for The World Fair: Columbian Exposition also known as the Chicago World’s Fair and Chicago Columbian Exposition were held on October 21, 1892. The centerpiece of the
Fair was the large water pool which represented the long voyage Columbus took
to the New World. The Fair opened in May 1893 with “Columbus and the Discovery
of America” serving as a major theme. Chicago
won the right to the Exposition over many other cities.
160 years later, Construction began on the Space
Shuttle Columbia in 1975. Columbia
served for over 22 years, it completed 27 missions before disintegrating
during re-entry near the end of its 28th mission, STS-107 on February 1, 2003,
resulting in the deaths of all seven crew members. Explorers for five hundred years have looked
back to the orginal journey of Christopher Columbus in 1492.
In 1937, FDR and Congress decided to
honor the work of the Knights of Columbus by establishing Columbus Day as a
national holiday. The KofC works
included taking care of widows since the 1882, building warming huts for troops
behind enemy lines in World War I, and working to reduce racism by publishing
the books The Gift of Black Folk, by W. E. B. Du Bois, The Jews in the
Making of America by George Cohen, and The Germans in the Making of America by Frederick Schrader.
W.E.B. Du Bois was the co-founder of the NAACP.
In the 1920s, the Knights took on the
KKK, which opposed Catholics. The 1920s are seen by many as the worst period of
race relations in America. In 2018 the Knights donated approximately $180
Million dollars and 75 million service hours.
Few who write editorials about Columbus Day are willing to include this
part of the history in their opinion pieces.
Entrepreneurial Spirit and Lifestyle of New Orleans Sicilians and Italians that
was Embraced by Americans
through his opinion, Staples focus moves to Louisiana and he writes: “Italian immigrants were welcomed into Louisiana after the
Civil War… Louisiana’s romance with Italian labor began to sour when the new
immigrants balked at low wages and dismal working conditions. That statement is either false
Our research comes up with the following facts. Italians were happy to work the plantations
and realized that within four years, they could save enough to leave the
plantation, buy land, and open a business. Italians were willing to unload
ships at the docks of New Orleans for lower costs that competitors, this led to
tension on the docks during a strike by others for higher wages. The Italians
By 1920 Italians owned 50% of all grocery stores in
Louisiana. The Sicilians introduced and imported lemons, mandarin oranges, and
pasta to America. By the 1890s,
Americans had fallen in love with pasta. When the Dingley Tariff Act of 1897
placed high tariffs on importing pasta, Sicilians responded with opening eleven
pasta factories in the French Quarter.
During this era, Progresso Soups and Luxury Pasta were started in New
Orleans by entrepreneurial Sicilians and Italians.
In 1915, Jass Musician Nick Larocca was hired from New
Orleans to play in Chicago. Larocca’s Orginal Dixieland Jass Band went to New
York in 1916. From there the name on his albums changed to JASZ and finally to
JAZZ. In 1917, The Orginal Dixieland Jass Band recorded the “Liverly Stable
Blues,” which sold over 1,000,000 copies. Nick Larocca’s dad had brought his coronet
with him when he migrated from Salaparuta Sicily in the 1880s.
The coronet had been invented in France in the 1830s and
became the centerpiece of the “Sicilian Sound” during the post-unification era
of Italy which started in 1861. Thus by
1920, word was out in America to visit New Orleans for food and music in an
area now known as “Little Palermo.” Two decades after Nick Larocca, Louis Prima
went to New York and the “Swing Era” was born. From there Prima was a key
player in establishing Las Vegas in the 1950s.
In the 1960s, New Orleans Mayor Victor Schiro worked with
Walt Disney to create the New Orleans area in Disneyland. Schiro worked with
other to bring the Saints Football team to New Orleans, the Superdome to start
construction, open Mardi Gras to tourism, integrate schools, and have New
Orleans chosen to build the booster rocket for the Apollo Moon Mission.
Schiro’s accomplishments in New Orleans when added to Fiorello Henry La Guardia’s accomplishments in New York
demonstrate the major threads Sicilians and Italians have placed into America’s
Even as far back as 1804, when Salvador Catalano of Palermo Sicily
became America’s first international War Hero when he piloted the ship of
Stephen Decatur into Tripoli during the Barbary Coast War. President Thomas
Jefferson rewarded Catalano with U S Citizenship. By 1809 Catalano had the
position of Master of Sails and held it until 1846. Catalano married Martha
Cabery, the sister of Washington D.C. Mayor Thomas Cabery.
Omitting the Barbary Coast Pirates in
motivating Columbus’ Journey
Salvador Catalano and Stephen Decatur’s efforts of 1804
invite more analysis as to the purpose of Columbus journey. One ‘myth” is
Columbus’ had the orginal idea the world was round, when others thought the
world was flat. Columbus main motivation
in sailing West was the piracy of the Barbary Coast Pirates of North Africa,
who captured cargo and made slaves of sailors. Columbus was on a ship that was
attacked and sunk in 1476 by pirates.
From 1450 to 1800 it is estimated that over 1,200,000
civilians of southern Europe were captured by Barbary Coast Pirates and sold
into slavery. On September 8, 1762 pirates from Tunisia captured the whole
Sicilian Town of Ustica and sold the residents into slavery.
Thus, for many Columbus became the inspiration for their
desire to explore.
Omitting the 1891 1891 Lynching
History with the New York Times Headlines
Staples spent considerable time on the lynching
of Italians in 1891 but left out the 2019 apology by Mayor Cantrell in New
Orleans. Murdered in the infamous lynching of 1891 in New Orleans was J.P.
Macheca, who had built a successful stevedore company on the docks. Following
the lynching, an ordinance was passed prohibiting Italians from working the
docks. As a result, Italians moved upriver to Kenner, Louisiana and established
new stevedore businesses.
In New York, Columbus Circle was erected in 1892 to display
the commitment to America of Italian Americans.
To this day, a wreath is laid at the statue every year in honor of those
lynched in 1891. In 2019 during a ceremony, Mayor Latoya Cantrell of New
Orleans apologized for the lynching, which involved then Mayor Shakspeare.
During the 2019 ceremony in New Orleans, Honorary Consul
Frank Maselli stated that Italians had long ago forgiven those that did the
lynching and that today, Italians do business with the descendants of those
that were involved in the lynching of 1891.
Forgiveness, not myth, is how Italians became Americans.
Italians even forgive the New York Times, which wrote on
March 15, 1891. “CHIEF HENNESSY AVENGED; ELEVEN OF
HIS ITALIAN ASSASSINS LYNCHED BY A MOB. AN UPRISING OF INDIGNANT CITIZENS IN
NEW-ORLEANS — THE PRISON DOORS FORCED AND THE ITALIAN MURDERERS SHOT
DOWN.” However, when asked in 2019, the
New York Times refused to apologize for this headline.
Orleans and Video Interviews
Our information comes from extensive
research. We have developed a free Tour App called “New Orleans Insider Tours,
Little Palermo” for 50 stops in New Orleans plus eight 30-minute playlists of
video on the Sicilian Migration to Louisiana posted on the You Tube Channel
“AWE News.” Topics include the 1891 Lynching plus the contributions of Italians
to American in sports, farm produce, military service, business, entertainment,
health, and philanthropy.
In New Orleans and Baton Rouge
Louisiana, during the 1990s Italians and Sicilians erected two monuments along
the Mississippi River. Both were sculptured by Franco Alessandrini. One is of
Christopher Columbus and one is to all immigrants. Tourists take pictures in front of these
monuments all day long, at times they are immigrants with the same hope that
Italians and Sicilians had during their migration to America during the 1800s
and early 1900s.
As a planet and civilization, we have
been evolving since the beginning of time.
Today most have better concepts that 1492. In other parts, including America, Human
Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery still exist.
We can look to the Italian Freedom Fighter and Liberator General Giuseppe
Garibaldi who in the Fall of 1861 advised President Abraham Lincoln to make the
war in America a noble cause to end slavery as opposed to Free Trade and States
Rights issues which sparked the conflict.
At some point America should honor
Giuseppe Garibaldi for that advise.
The lower area of the French Quarter has been called “Little Palermo.” Now a free self-guided tour app launched by “New Orleans Insider Tours” provides over forty points of historic interest in the French Quarter and ten spots outside New Orleans as Sicilians migrated. From 1885-1915 over 60,000 Sicilians arrived in New Orleans.
Each spot has GPS, photos, audio, and text. Many spots have video interviews with the chef, sculptor, or other person connected to the site.
Numerous antidotes about the Sicilian Migration are told in the App. Examples: The first individual cocktail in America was made in New Orleans at the Jewel of the South Bar by Joseph Santini. A new bar has opened in honor of maker, where you can have that drink.
During the Civil War in April 1862, for seven days as the Confederates left and the Union Army had not yet arrived, The Mayor turned to The Italian Brigade to act as policemen and save New Orleans from looting and burning as was the case in Algiers.
After the Dingley Tarriff of 1897 was passed on importing pasta, elevan pasta factories opened in the French Quarter.
In April 1862. A Sicilian was the pilot of 1804 War Hero Capt. Stephen Decatur’s ship that sailed into Tripoli during the First Barbary Coast War.
The app can be downloaded by a QR Code. It is part of ten tours offered by New Orleans Insider Tours.
Louisiana and the Southeast offer numerous ways to maintain
our Italian and Sicilian heritages. With approximately twenty organizations and
several feast and national holidays to celebrate all the wonderful things of
being Italian and Sicilian. In the 1890s
several Societies were formed to provide a community for members. Later these
groups built the Italian Hall on Esplanade Ave. in New Orlerans.
In the 1930s, Charles V. Marsala Sr. helped organized six clubs in Northern Louisiana, some of these clubs were called the Progressive Men’s Clubs. The American Italian Federation of the Southeast is an umbrella organization designed to provide communication between member organizations and represent the AIFED at the national level on issues such as maintaining Columbus Day.
We would like to re-open an organization in Monroe and open establish an organization in the New Orleans area. We have contacted the Sons and Daughters of Italy and they are interested to help us. Currently the Sons and Daughters has 750,000 members.
A spring convention is being planned. For more information www.AIFEd.org
The LSU Tigers will be playing for a National Championship on January 13, 2020. The “Tigers” name comes from an concept by Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat while he was in Sicily in 1860 fighting with General Garibaldi to unify Italy. Wheat and Garibaldi had landed in Marsala on May 11 taking over 12,000 Sicilians as Prisoners of War.
sensed war was coming to America and suggested Garibaldi allow him to take
2,000 men to New Orleans to fight as Confederates. This would make Wheat a
General and remove the burden to Garibaldi of feeding them as POWs.
Six ships of hand-to-hand combat battle veterans left Sicily with POWs for New Orleans. The Louisiana Tigers would eventually transfer under General Lee with almost all dying in battle. The LSU Song “Tiger Rag” was written in 1915 by New Orleanian Nick LaRocca of Sicilian Ancestry. Larocca liked to write songs with “animal” noises, such as the horse sound in “Livery Stable Blues.” His band was the “Orginal Dixieland Jass Band.” He changed the name of the music in November 1917 to Jazz.
The Tigers earned their name when they ran out of bullets defending a supply bridge. The commanding officer advised them to hold their ground and throw the rocks at Union soldiers. The Tigers accuracy killed several Union soldiers and led to them retreating. This delay allowed for the Tigers ammunition to be supplied and victory achieved.
On May 11, 1860 General Giuseppe Garibaldi landed in Sicily with Major Wheat and 1,000 men. Their mission was to unify Italy as France had just taken Nice from the Kingdom of Savoy and Austria had its sights set on taking Venice. John Viola explains in this video.
After crossing Sicily and heading onto the boot of Italy, Garibaldi finished his campaign in Abruzzo on March 17, 1861. At this point in time lower Italy and Sicily were part of The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
Major Wheat from New Orleans saw the Civil War coming and suggested he be allowed to take 2,000 of the 12,000 Sicilian prisoners of war to New Orleans. Six ships left for New Orleans bring approximately 1,600 war hardened soldiers.