The District of Columbia may soon be known as the Douglass Commonwealth if a Democrat-led initiative called the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, or H.R. 51, (https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/51/text) in the House gets passed.
The bill was introduced by Rep. At Large. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) on January 1, 2019, long before the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
Frederick Douglass was an abolitionist, an African-American who had escaped slavery. He became a national leader in the abolitionist movement in the northern states.
Douglass lived in D.C.’s Southeast quadrant, known as Anacostia and was active in Washington civic life, putting his time, money, and love into the city and its peoples.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, an autobiographical work, was published in 1845 and was a bestseller in its day.
Frederick Douglass believed in dialogue, even with slave owners. When he was criticized for associating with this group, his response was at once witty and insightful, providing a better understanding of Douglass as a free-spirited thinker: “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
We at Staten Islander News Org take these words to heart, believing everyone should have a voice and we can learn from one and all; we do not subscribe to “cancelling” anyone, but rather providing a forum for heartfelt and cogent discussion.
Presently, Washington, D.C. is not a state, but rather a “district,” as per Constitutional decree:
The Congress shall have Power To… exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States… (The U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 17)
The Framers saw trouble in having New York City or Philadelphia as a federal capitol; they wanted an area all its own. A place that would not have competing attention for its own agenda and Federal interests, a place that could serve a dedicated role as seat of national leadership.
A mosquito-infested swamp along the Potomac River was chosen, carved from both Maryland and Virginia’s less valuable land. In time, this area was built up into the national capitol we know today.
The swamps are gone today, replaced with apartment houses and Federal buildings. In fact, D.C. remains number two on the top “Mosquito Cities” list, the roster of where citizens and visitors are itchiest.
Washington, D.C. now has a population of over 700,000 people. Will these 700,000 people end up enjoying the privileges that come with statehood?
It’s yet unknown. The Republican-controlled Senate will probably vote no. But in the future, the Senate majority might shift, and then it’s more likely.
And so, for now, it seems a mostly symbolic gesture. The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly along party lines; all Democrats voted “yea” except for Rep. Justin Amash (D-Mi).
Rep. Max Rose (D-NY), our Staten Island Congressman in Washington standing for the 11th district, also voted “yea” on the measure. While his district is home to the third-largest Italian-American population of any NY House district, approximately 161,000 citizens, he voted against keeping Columbus as D.C.’s name.
Some readers of Staten Islander have e-mailed us, expressing their feelings that Rep. Rose’s vote disrespects this large portion of his voter base, a betrayal of every Italian-American in his district. In the eyes of most Italian-Americans, the recognition of Christopher Columbus is considered a recognition of Italian-Americans, and their numerous positive achievements.
Italian-Americans were denied social and economic privilege for a long while; it’s only been through great trials that this group has come to the fore of American society and politics. Remember, the largest mass lynching took place on Louisiana, and was of Italians, not Black people.
As it is, the District of Columbia is not entitled to senatorial representation. In the House of Representatives, DC has a single delegate, a representative not granted full voting privileges, the Representative At Large.
However, once the twenty-third Amendment was passed in 1961, D.C. citizens gained more of a say in what happens in the Executive Branch of the Federal government, as they were also given the right to choose electors in presidential election.
Mayor Muriel Bowse is seeking statehood for her district. Washington, D.C. residents may more in federal income taxes than residents in nearly half the states. It’s an issue of taxation without full representation.
The Douglass Commonwealth would possibly be the most liberal-leaning state, with the highest majority Black residents out of the total state populations.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was forthright in explaining why Republicans might be reluctant to grant statehood to D.C. As the city’s electorate would likely choose to elect two Democratic senators, Senate representation would be skewed in his opponents’ favor. It’s not about bias or racism, simply maintaining, and competing for, Senatorial influence.
Right now, there are seven areas of the United States that are not quite states. These include Puerto Rico, the Marshall Islands, Guam, Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands in the North Pacific Ocean, and American Samoa.
There are also other islands that are considered territories that are lesser known: Bajo Nuevo Bank, Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Navassa Island, Palmyra Atoll, Serranilla Bank, Wake Island.
The residents of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islanders, Guam, and Washington, D.C., are all considered U.S. citizens. Samoans are considered U.S. nationals, but not citizens of the Republic.
Residents are permitted to vote in presidential primaries, but do not have full representation and like D.C., have a delegate in Congress with limited voting rights. So far, there has been a push for statehood only for Puerto Rico. In 2017, a referendum regarding the island’s future found that 97% of voters would choose statehood over other options.
Why Not District of Columbia or What’s In a Name?
Many Americans wonder why the abbreviation D.C. is being assigned a new meaning. What’s wrong with District of Columbia?
Columbia is a reference to Columbus. Christopher Columbus, that is. Better known by most of our Italian-American grandparents as Cristoforo Colombo.
Columbus, or Colomobo, was a master navigator whose four expeditions to the New World paved the way for further European expansion and colonization. These trips across the Atlantic were sponsored by the Spanish monarchs, Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II, undertaken in August of 1492.
Remember the kids’ rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue?”*
He returned with gold…and a few captives. He had been searching for a faster route to India, as spices and plant products were the most important items of trade at the time.
It’s claimed that Columbus was the first to make the trek to the Americas, but it’s been debated that the Vikings, and even early Romans, had done so first.
Christopher Columbus was self-educated, but well versed in various disciplines, a point not lost on many Italian American laborers, who were themselves under-educated, yet avid lifelong learners.
While Columbus remains an important figure in North American history for Italian-Americans, a symbol of achievement and Italian culture, to many People of Color living in the United States, Columbus stands for oppression and little else.
While many Americans celebrate Columbus Day, others celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, in opposition and defiance to the longstanding U.S. holiday.
Opponents believe that the trans-Atlantic slave trade and American Native genocide can both be traced to Columbus.
Christopher Columbus took slaves. He allegedly sold young Native American female into sex slavery.
He mandated that Indigenous peoples not bringing him sufficient measures of gold would have their arms chopped off.
His journals show the thinking of a man who considered people primarily in terms of racial difference. While it was common for most people in his day to think along racial lines and believe strongly in racial stereotypes, it wasn’t necessarily common to take slaves or dismember others.
While Black slaves did not figure into the Columbus narrative, it’s claimed that his initial colonization set the groundwork for what was to follow, brutal century after brutal century of toiling in the cotton and tobacco fields. And,he did makes slaes of the native Taino peoples.
Michele de Cuneo, one of Columbus’ crew during the second expedition to the New World, wrote in his own journals:
“While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful woman, whom [Columbus] gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked…I was filled with a desire…and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so [scratched] me with her nails…I then..whipped her…Eventually…you would have thought she had been brought up in a school for whores.”
Yikes. Christopher Columbus was supposed to be a good Christian man. This is indefensible. Where is Jesus on the Cross in this instance?
In recent weeks, statues of Columbus have been toppled across the nation. Outside Columbus,Ohio, City Hall, a bronze figure was removed by work-crews with a crane at 3 AM. In Richmond, Virginia, a statue of Columbus was toppled by protesters and thrown in a lake.
In Camden, New Jersey, a Columbus statue was decapitated. The beheaded statue stood in Farnham Park and was in the process of being removed when demonstrators took the matter into their own hands, vandalizing the monument.
Was Christopher Columbus a colonizer? We can all agree that he was. The modern Western world owes its existence to him blazing the path.
Was he an oppressor? Perhaps. As more evidence comes to light, his legacy is becoming nothing short of a mixed bag.
But had he not traveled to the New World by ship, our nation would have never come to be.
In the future, maybe Columbus Day should be renamed Columbus and Indigenous Peoples’ Day. We can appreciate his role as a historic figure while acknowledging he was no saint, and that many people suffered because of him.
However, there is something called the Black Legend. Sometimes called the Spanish Black Legend, this refers to a somewhat well-documented historiography that is skewed heavily in an anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic direction.
Who started this? It was the English and Dutch Protestants, we can be fairly certain. This makes sense when Spaniards coming to the New World are regarded as ” cruel and greedy goldseekers” or Devils, while English people traveling across the Atlantic were considered “colonists, home-builders , [and] seekers after liberty.”
Scholars agree that these biases existed, and affected the historical record, but as to specifics, there is yet much contention.
The Spanish, and Catholic Church, was painted as ” cruel, bigoted, degenerate, exploitative and self-righteous” by the use of “fabrications, de-contextualization, exaggeration, cherry picking and double standards with facts.”
In the end, if it’s determined that Columbus is guilty, all is not lost. Perhaps some of the evidence against him was fabricated; that would not be the first time in history that a person’s guilt was established with false accounts. We just don’t know. But it may be true.
Many Black Americans know about this happening in the modern era, firsthand. Below, please find an embedded video from The New York Times, long-recognized as one of the most prestigious newspapers on Earth.
However, when considering Columbus’ legacy, there is a serious quandary. His journals do not exist. These, along with copies, were somehow “lost.” What we are left with are secondhand accounts — by those claiming to have read the originals — asserting the legitimacy of these claims. This is a very serious issue, and considering anti-Italian bias, may factor heavily into whether these alleged journal entries are authentic.
Italian-Americans have other Italian explorers and sea navigators to choose from, after all, in terms of legacy and history of achievement. Most do not have a mixed legacy of infamy and notable activity. Maybe we, as Italian-Americans, can replace Columbus with one of them as our yardstick for achievement and worth?
In the case of Washington, D.C., perhaps the best solution would be to choose both names. In the event that D.C. does not become a state, it could stand for both District of Columbia and Douglass Center. If statehood becomes a fact, then District of Columbia and Douglass Commonwealth could both be valid.
There are no rules; honorary names for streets, buildings, and towns, has a historical precedent, even if there were. For instance, after 9-11-2001, many streets on Staten Island, and throughout NYC, were given secondary, honorary names, for those who lost their lives at the World Trade Center.
There was Giovanni da Verrazzano. He first sailed past Staten Island and up into New York Harbor and beyond. He didn’t kill any “Indians,” but was eventually killed by them, all the same.
But that’s not all. Here’s a more complete list of Italian explorers. Of course, not every one explored the Americas, but each is worth remembering, have achieved greatness in their own way:
Giuseppe Acerbi, Enrico Alberto d’Albertis, Carlo Amoretti, Paolo Andreani, Orazio Antinori, Giosafat Barbaro, Giacomo Beltrami, Scipione Borghese, Vittorio Bottego, Giacomo Bove, Sebastiano Caboto, Umberto Cagni, Giovanni Caboto, Alvise Cadamosto, Gaetano Casati), Giuseppe Castiglione, Cristoforo Colombo, Ambrogio Contarini, Niccolò de’ Conti, Andrea Corsali, Antonio da Noli, Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, Ardito Desio, Alfonso de Tonti, Enrico de Tonti, Andrea Doria, Eusebio Kino, Alessandro Malaspina, Lancelotto Malocello, Reinhold Messner, Umberto Nobile, Antonio Pigafetta, Emmanuel Piloti, Marco Polo, Niccolò and Maffeo Polo, Michele Pontrandolfo, Domenico Potorti, Matteo Ricci, Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi, Pietro Paolo Savorgnan di Brazzà, Giovanni da Verrazzano, Amerigo Vespucci, Ugolino Vivaldi, Vadino Vivaldi, Alex Bellini
*In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He had three ships and left from Spain; He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain. He sailed by night; he sailed by day; He used the stars to find his way. A compass also helped him know How to find the way to go. Ninety sailors were on board; Some men worked while others snored. Then the workers went to sleep; And others watched the ocean deep. Day after day they looked for land; They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand. October 12 their dream came true, You never saw a happier crew! “Indians! Indians!” Columbus cried;His heart was filled with joyful pride. But “India” t he land was not;It was the Bahamas, and it was hot. The Arakawa natives were very nice; They gave the sailors food and spice. Columbus sailed on to find some gold To bring back home, as he’d been told.He made the trip again and again, Trading gold to bring to Spain. The first American? No, not quite. But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.
Thanks, kindly, to Mr. Donald James for aiding in our research for this article by way of his extensive knowledge regarding the Christopher Columbus historiography.