Declaration of (Italian) American Independence

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“They all laughed at Christopher Columbus/When he said the world was round…” So begins the lyrics of Ira Gershwin for brother George’s 1937 composition “They All Laughed.” The Gershwins wrote the song for the movie Shall We Dance, starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Frank Sinatra famously included the tune in his masterpiece Trilogy album, where he sings the closing lyrics “Who’s got the last laugh now?” with a knowing wink.

From Christopher Columbus to Frank Sinatra, it’s clear that Italians and Italian-Americans have had a tremendous impact on America. Over the next three weeks, we’ll focus on those names history books seem to have neglected.

Did you know Italian-Americans played a prominent role in the founding of America? For example, three of the first five American warships were named after Italians. These were Continue Reading “Declaration of (Italian) American Independence”

Celebrate! October is Italian-American Heritage Month!

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According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of illegal lynchings between 1882 and 1962 was 4,736. This data was compiled by the Department of Records and Research, Tuskegee Institute, Alabama; and published in: Ploski, Harry, and Williams, James; The Negro Almanac: A Reference Work on Afro-American, 4th ed. New York: Wiley, 1983. As you might suspect most of these lynchings (roughly 73%) were perpetrated upon blacks. It might astonish you, however, to learn the largest lynching event in U.S. history contained no black victims. Here’s how I discovered this fact.

A couple of weeks ago, Tim and Deb Smith’s “Mendon’s Historic Hamlets – Rochester Junction, Part 2” told the story of the death of Spencer Howe. The suspect, Nicolo DeNardo, fled the scene, but was later captured by police. The headline in the Democrat and Chronicle shouts “Struck Down by a Dago.” The casual use of that ethnic slur got me curious. Did other newspapers of that era also use it?

I quickly found out there’s an island called Dago in the Baltic Sea near the Gulf of Finland. Apparently, it was quite the popular place to wreck your ship in the eighteenth century.

I landed closer to my mark when I saw the following page two of the Friday, January 2nd, 1835 edition of The New York Evening Post. Here’s what it said: “Five Dollars Reward, for Continue Reading “Celebrate! October is Italian-American Heritage Month!”