Historical Anti-Italian American Bias Led To Creation Of Columbus Day: COPOMIAO, Basil M. Russo Make Case For Italian-Americans To Be Deemed Protected Class


Basil M. Russo and COPOMIAO Make The Case for Italian Americans to be Deemed a Protected Class


    • – Attorney George Bochetto Petitions The U.S. Supreme Court
    • – All Things Change If Italian Americans are Victorious
    • – Petition Filed on March 14th, The Day of Infamy When Italians Were Hung by Lynch Mob in New Orleans


Basil M. Russo remains resolute.

The fight is onward.

To the U.S. Supreme Court we go!

The next battleground is the biggest.

Judge Russo leads the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations (COPOMIAO). This past January, he and COPOMIAO made history when, through their youth committee, headed by John Viola and Patrick O’Boyle, convened the first-ever national Italian American youth summit.

Hence, the strategy is to offer a carrot and stick by Judge Russo and his team at COPOMIAO.

The carrot: Entice coming generations to proudly embrace their Italian American heritage.

The stick: Keep fighting! We advocate our cause and defend our legacy at school board, municipal and city meetings, and, of course, in the courts; and now, the third co-equal branch of the United States government.

The U.S. Supreme Court!

COPOMIAO has as its attorney, the incomparable George Bochetto, a weaver of legal miracles against Mayor Jim Kenney of Philadelphia to win one court case after the other in that city. Mr. Bochetto has now been given the green light by Judge Russo and COPOMIAO to bring their case to the highest court in the land.

If the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, and if Italian Americans win, then everything changes. No more Columbus Day eliminations at the municipal and state levels. No more tearing down Columbus statues. No more denying the contributions of Italians in our elementary and secondary schools.

We will be, and rightly so, deemed a protected class.

Mr. Bochetto filed his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on March 14; a day of infamy for Italian Americans. It was on this day, in 1891, when the call rang out in New Orleans to abduct 11 Italian immigrants to hang em high.

The worst case of mass lynching in America’s history remains a lesson for us all. These 11 men were hung for one reason, and, for one reason, alone: They were Italian. Hence, we cannot rely on others to do our fighting for us. We have to come together to take our cases to court, to advocate our cause in government, to defend our legacy at school board and municipal meetings.

We can no longer remain complacent. We can no longer remain silent.

Consider for a moment the reaction to the mass lynching in 1891. How most people in power felt about Italians then (and now) were best displayed by the likes of The New York Times and Teddy Roosevelt. America’s newspaper of record praised the lynchings! Uncle Teddy, in a letter to his sister, sided with the mob! He wrote: “Personally, I think it a rather good thing.”


Was Italy about to declare war against the United States? Yes, indeed! And for good reason. How would America feel if 11 of her citizens were taken from their homes and killed in another country for no reason? That’s how Italy felt!

Never mind we knew we could win a war against Italy. America had become one of the strongest nations by then. No, a conflict was to be avoided because many Americans shared Italy’s indignation at what happened in New Orleans. Most Americans did not cheer the mass lynching of Italians as did the New York Times and Teddy Roosevelt. Quite the contrary, most were outraged and disgusted. War with Italy was to be prevented. The diplomatic crisis was averted thanks to the first Columbus Day and subsequent cultural celebration built on inclusion and assimilation.

It was a night of horror on March 14, 1891. Hard to imagine now…or is it? Back then, prominent New Orleans citizens — including future mayors and governors — led the largest lynch mob ever to assemble on U.S. soil. Today, we see, not future mayors and governors – but present-day mayors and governors! – cheering on the violent mobs who destroy Columbus statues. We see the New York Times, who endorsed the lynching of Italians, as the only national newspaper who refused to run a paid ad by COPOMIAO in defense of Columbus! Message then and now: It’s okay to attack the legacy of Italians in America.

Numbering in the tens of thousands and wielding torches, rifles and rope, the mob of vigilantes stormed into New Orleans’ Parish Prison and murdered 11 Italian immigrants, all of whom had either just been acquitted or were falsely implicated in the 1890 murder of Police Chief David Hennessy.

The victims included:

  • • Antonio Bagnetto, fruit peddler: tried and acquitted
  • • James Caruso, stevedore: not tried
  • • Loreto Comitis, tinsmith: not tried
  • • Rocco Geraci, stevedore: not tried
  • • Joseph Macheca, fruit importer and Democratic Party political boss: tried and acquitted 330 × 190
  • • Antonio Marchesi, fruit peddler: tried and acquitted
  • • Pietro Monasterio, cobbler: mistrial
  • • Emmanuele Polizzi, street vendor: mistrial
  • • Frank Romero, ward politician: not tried
  • • Antonio Scaffidi, fruit peddler: mistrial
  • • Charles Traina, rice plantation laborer: not tried

The modern spin encompasses The Godfather mentality. These 11 men were lynched because…they were Mafia!

Mob conspirators claimed that Mafia influence swayed jurors, despite no evidence; and according to History.com, the court proceedings surrounding Chief Hennessy’s murder marked the genesis of Italian American mafia tropes that persist today (from boorish Saturday Night Live sketches, to Hollywood’s repetitive stereotypes).

Italian Americans and leaders of the kingdom of Italy were outraged by the mass lynching. Italy broke off diplomatic relations and recalled its ambassador from Washington, D.C. Then-President Benjamin Harrison, in turn, removed the U.S. legation from Rome.

With a looming presidential election and a deepening diplomatic crisis, President Harrison urged communities across the nation to celebrate Columbus and show their patriotism.

It was a major success, as more than one million people gathered in New York City on Oct. 12, 1892, to honor Columbus Day and cheer on the 40,000-strong parade (the larger-than-life NYC celebration took place exactly 400 years after the navigator first landed in what was deemed the New World, and it also jumpstarted the mass dissemination of the freshly scripted Pledge of Allegiance).

The next day, on Oct. 13, 1892, the towering Columbus Circle statue was unveiled in front of thousands of people. And just like that, the deep cultural connection between Columbus and Italian Americans was cemented.

President Harrison had successfully quelled the boiling diplomatic tensions, but he would ultimately lose the presidency to Grover Cleveland.

Despite the outpouring of support, Italian Americans would go on to experience crushing suppression across the United States.

At least 40 more lynchings of Italians took place on U.S. soil, and during WWII, 600,000 Italian immigrants and Italian Americans were deemed enemy aliens by order of the U.S. government — despite the fact that more than one million Italian American soldiers were fighting and dying in Europe and the South Pacific to protect America’s freedoms.

Many of these “enemy aliens” were surveilled, stripped of their livelihoods and native language, and were forced to leave their homes; and some were even sent to internment camps. Infamously, Joe DiMaggio’s father, a fisherman in California, had his boat commandeered by the U.S. government.

Columbus statues and monuments were installed in Italian communities across the U.S. to fuel assimilation and combat discrimination during this decades-long period of widespread racism and sedition.

They were paid for by poor Italian Americans who spent years rounding up funds to pay for the statues.

Columbus Day became a permanent national holiday in 1934 when Congress, after lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, authorized President Franklin D. Roosevelt to declare Oct. 12 as the designated date. In 1971, Columbus Day was made a federal holiday on the second Monday in October.

Despite this history, Columbus statues have been reinterpreted as symbols of hate, enslavement and colonialism by misguided reformists (the irony is astounding).

If only everyday folks knew the full story, they’d understand why a large segment of today’s Italian Americans are fighting to preserve the Columbus statues and parades.

In 2022, COPOMIAO (led by Italian Sons and Daughters of America President Basil M. Russo) worked directly with the White House in crafting the latest federal Columbus Day proclamation, which examines and clarifies this overlooked and under-appreciated history.

The Conference of Presidents is also working closely with the New Jersey Italian Heritage Commission (NJIHC) on the national rollout of an equitable, diverse and inclusive curriculum model that uses heritage as a guide to better educate U.S. students in both public and private schools. It is titled: The Universality of Italian Heritage.

In Syracuse, N.Y., the Columbus Monument Corp. won a lawsuit in March 2022 that blocked the removal of the city’s Columbus statue. Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh has appealed the ruling, and, in the process, is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on the misguided legal effort.

In Chicago, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans is working with city officials in the hopes of promoting Columbus and easing the violent crime that has plagued the city. JCCIA President Ron Onesti told WGN that Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas has agreed to hear arguments over returning a historic Columbus statue to Grant Park.

In Pittsburgh, Italian Sons and Daughters of America is suing to save the city’s Columbus statue. The suit is currently in the appeal process.

And finally, after a decade of holding class on the second Monday in October, Columbus Day will once again be celebrated during the 2024-25 school year in New Canaan, Connecticut.

The New Canaan Board of Education passed a motion 5-4 this past January to reestablish the holiday.

As Judge Russo says, “There’s much to fight for — and much to look forward to — as Italian Americans young and old come together to honor their ancestors.”

Editor’s Note: The web site for COPOMIAO is https://copomiao.org.

Banner Image: COPOMIAO Supreme Court Graphic. Image Credit – Primo Magazine


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