Stanfield: Why we need Columbus Day, even if we hate Columbus

Arisson Stanfield

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

Today, Oct. 8 is Columbus Day. A time set aside to remember the contributions of the Italian explorer, colonizer and all around egomaniac Christopher Columbus. In recent years the popularity of the holiday has begun to waver. 


Many feel it is outright offensive to nationally recognize a man who ushered in an era of manifest destiny and subjugation of indigenous peoples. Students at Colorado State University even feel that Columbus day ought to be abolished or at least replaced with a holiday recognizing the indigenous peoples that were so often the victims of Western expansion.

But as strange as it may sound, we need Columbus Day. 

Established as a Federal holiday in 1934, Columbus Day actually has its civic origins as a celebration in Colorado. According to the Library of Congress, Denver was the first city to recognize Columbus Day as a public holiday. Interestingly enough some of the most vocal opposition to the holiday originates from the same place. 

According to an article published in the European Journal of American History, anti-Columbus Day protestors actually stopped a parade in the city of Denver as far back as 1992. The same article reports that Glenn Morris, an associate professor at CU Denver, called Columbus Day, “The most important issue facing Indian country today.”

We ought to preserve this day in history because it is bigger than a man. Columbus Day is about more than a European explorer who met his demise in destitution and disgrace more than half a millennium ago. 

It is understandable why people like Professor Morris consider Columbus Day to be an obstruction to social progress. To large portions of the country, Columbus Day represents the blatant glorification of white supremacy, genocide and the rampant colonialism of bygone eras.

The Transform Columbus Day Alliance based in Denver claims that continuing to celebrate the holiday will, “teach children to honor a cruel and brutal man.” This perception is not the invention of anti-American agents or wound up liberals it is deeply rooted in fact. It was Columbus himself who stated in his captain’s log that, “I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased.”

It was statements like these that helped to make Columbus controversial even in his own lifetime. Felipe Fernández-Armesto, a faculty member at Oxford University states that many of Columbus’s contemporaries viewed him as negatively as people do today.

Many who traveled with him saw him as a threat to the stability of his own colonies and considered him a man of poor reason, few scruples and a penchant for exploration and fable.

So if people from both the past and present seem to despise this man why should we even continue to recognize Columbus Day?

We ought to preserve this day in history because it is bigger than a man. Columbus Day is about more than a European explorer who met his demise in destitution and disgrace more than half a millennium ago. 


We need to remember Columbus because of what he represents. Though he may mean many different things to many different people, like columnist Mikaela Rodenbaugh’s article last year points out, there are some things we should all be able to agree on.

For instance, Columbus was a plague to many in the so-called New World. To indigenous people he could be considered a merchant of death, a catalyst for catastrophe and the harbinger of a new world order. 

It is also true that he was one of the greatest explorers in modern history and through his wit and bravery was able to complete many a perilous journey across the Atlantic. A feat that few, up until that point, had succeeded in. 

When Columbus arrived in the West Indies he contributed to creating a world that was truly connected physically.  To discard him as a useful figure of remembrance is to sever our ties to this rich, bloodied, terrible and awesome history. 

Columbus Day should not be celebrated, but it should be observed. It ought not be a day for parades and songs but for solemn reflection and contemplation. 

Arisson Stanfield can be reached at or on Twitter @OddestOdyssey.