Proposal in Chicago to change Columbus Drive to Barack Obama Drive draws fury of Italian American group

A proposed Chicago City Council ordinance to rename Columbus Drive to Barack Obama Drive in the Windy City has drawn backlash from an Italian American group.

Ron Onesti, president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans (JCCIA), called the proposed ordinance “insensitive and unvetted” in a press release.

The proposed ordinance, sponsored by Alderman Lamont Robinson, was introduced Wednesday.

In a Wednesday post on X, formerly Twitter, with a link to a story from The Chicago Tribune about the possible renaming, Robinson said there is a need to “honor more Black men, and this is one small way we can do that.”

“Chicago’s children deserve to see that they too can become Black history & cement a new tourist destination to increase Chicago tourism highlighting where Black history was made,” Robinson said in the post.

In the JCCIA press release, Onesti said the group commends “Alderman Robinson’s intent of honoring a most worthy historic, hometown figure,” but questioned “why must it be at the expense of one ethnic group, and why take such a noble effort and attach it to an action offensive to the over 500,000 Americans of Italian descent in and around Chicago.”

“It would be more relevant to rename a portion of South Greenwood Avenue where the Obama residence is, or Stony Island Avenue where the Barack Obama Presidential Library sits,” Onesti continued.

According to The Chicago Sun-Times, Columbus Drive was previously called the Inner Drive, but was renamed in 1933 for the explorer Christopher Columbus.

Columbus is often seen as an important figure among Italian Americans due to his own Italian heritage, and the holiday Columbus Day is often seen as a day for Italian Americans to celebrate their own heritage.

But there are also many critics of Columbus and the Columbus Day holiday, who point to what happened to people indigenous to America after his landing, in addition to the slavery in the Americas that followed his voyage. A number of states and cities now observe Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day.

The JCCIA describes itself on its website as “a congress for the Chicagoland Italian American organizations and represents the community on a local, state, national and international level.”

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