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Discovering Columbus Day

Columbus Day has a long history, starting on Oct. 12, 1492 when one of Christopher Columbus’s ships, the Pinta, is said to have sighted North America.

The day wasn’t celebrated until 300 years later when, in 1792, The Society of St. Tammany – or the Columbian Order – organized an event in New York City.

Another hundred years later, President Benjamin Harrison urged Americans to celebrate the day across the country in schools and community events. Incidentally, this was also the first time the Pledge of Allegiance was said at a public event, according to

Several groups, including the Knights of Columbus, lobbied to declare Oct. 12 a national holiday. In 1907, Colorado was the first state to make Columbus Day an official holiday.

Finally, in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established Oct. 12 as Columbus Day.

In 1971, Nixon changed it to the second Monday in October.

Since Columbus was not the first person to discover North America and may not have been farther north than Puerto Rico, debates have ensued on whether or not Columbus Day is a valid holiday.

By the time Columbus ended his journey in what he thought was Asia, Native Americans had already made their home. In 1000 A.D., Norsemen sailed to North America, but did nothing to alter history and did not stay long. Other countries believe Portuguese sailors first discovered America.

Whether or not Columbus was the first European to discover America may never be known for sure, but these debates haven’t stopped some states from renaming the holiday. Hawaii celebrates “Discoverers Day,” South Dakota “Native American Day” and Nevada has eliminated the holiday altogether.

What concerns most students about the holiday are the recent changes in school closures. Students may remember getting the day off as kids, but today, most schools in Florida remain open.

Appropriately, Christopher Columbus High School in Miami will be closed, along with banks, government offices and the postal service, but USF will stay open on Columbus Day this year, like they have for many years.