Why Colum­bus is now a foot­note in his­tory

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - Jo­dine May­berry Colum­nist Jo­dine May­berry is a re­tired ed­i­tor, long­time jour­nal­ist and Delaware County res­i­dent. Her col­umn ap­pears every Fri­day. You can reach her at jodine­may­berry@ com­cast.net.

An­other Colum­bus Day has rolled around and with it an­other round of ac­tivists’ de­mands to pull down his stat­ues and turn Colum­bus Day into Indige­nous Peo­ples Day in­stead.

Los An­ge­les and Seat­tle have al­ready done that.

In New York, the hands of a Colum­bus statute were drenched in red paint. Other stat­ues have been van­dal­ized as well.

But most of us prob­a­bly didn’t think about Colum­bus at all last Mon­day.

Ei­ther we had the day off or we didn’t, and some of us were mo­men­tar­ily mys­ti­fied about why we didn’t get any mail.

Some of us have never learned to call Delaware Av­enue in Philadel­phia Colum­bus Av­enue even though the name was changed 25 years ago to com­mem­o­rate the 500th an­niver­sary of his first voy­age.

There re­ally is no need to van­dal­ize his stat­ues or pull them down.

Colum­bus has al­ready been rel­e­gated to a less prom­i­nent, more ap­pro­pri­ate place in our pan­theon of na­tional myths, much like his name­sake St. Christo­pher.

When I was in school in the 1950s and 1960s, we were taught a pretty car­toon­ish ver­sion of Colum­bus: He proved the world was round (he didn’t), he dis­cov­ered Amer­ica (never set foot in the place) and if it weren’t for him none of us would be here (yes, we would).

As with many of the ear­li­est ar­rivals in the New World, Colum­bus’ en­ter­prise was ba­si­cally cor­po­rate, a shop­ping ex­pe­di­tion for the king and queen of Spain.

He brought con­quis­ta­dors — sol­diers and adventurers — whose sole aim was to col­lect gold, sil­ver and other valu­ables for the monar­chs by any means nec­es­sary.

And he brought priests to con­vert the In­di­ans to the one true re­li­gion – Catholi­cism – and pacify them so they would be good lit­tle slaves, grow­ing food for the Spa­niards and dig­ging mines to find more gold and sil­ver.

He was, by many ac­counts, an aw­ful boss, a lousy gover­nor and a cruel hu­man be­ing.

Many would say, “Well, he was a man of his time.” Too true. If you ever take a cruise that stops at Sa­mana, Do­mini­can Repub­lic, take the shore ex­cur­sion to Taino Park, a beau­ti­ful lit­tle mu­seum a few miles up in the hills that tells the Taino In­di­ans’ side of the story, in­clud­ing, shock­ingly, how their chiefs were put to the Span­ish In­qui­si­tion.

Colum­bus merely came from Europe to Amer­ica at the right time for the wealthy city-states of the old world to ex­ploit the new and there were plenty of other ex­plor­ers trip­ping over each other to make the same dis­cov­ery.

With the 500th an­niver­sary of Colum­bus’ first voy­age loom­ing in the 1980s, schol­ars be­gan tak­ing a closer look at Colum­bus and adopt­ing a much more nu­anced his­tory of the meet­ing of East and West.

As a re­sult schools now teach about the “Columbian ex­change,” the trade of tech­nol­ogy, dis­eases, plants, an­i­mals, agri­cul­ture, medicine and sci­ence be­tween the two hemi­spheres that un­til that time had been com­pletely iso­lated from one an­other.

They also teach about the great tragedy that meet­ing caused the In­di­ans, as some 50 mil­lion of them died, mainly from Euro­pean dis­eases within the first 50 years. Not Colum­bus’ fault of course, but it hap­pened.

A cou­ple of weeks ago, the Philadel­phia In­quirer asked lo­cal artists, “What makes a mon­u­ment?”

Hank Willis Thomas had the best an­swer: It is an idea, a mythol­ogy, he said, “a mar­ket­ing tool of a spe­cific world view.”

That’s why Philadel­phi­ans fought so hard to pre­serve the statue of an Ital­ian-Amer­i­can fic­tional char­ac­ter, “Rocky” and why they have parked a gi­ant afro pick next to the statue of Frank Rizzo.

That’s why the city re­cently erected a statue to early civil rights pi­o­neer Oc­tavius Catto at city hall, a few blocks from where he was mur­dered on elec­tion day 1871 as white ri­ot­ers ram­paged through the city try­ing to vot­ing.

The Sons of the Con­fed­er­acy are still fund­ing and erect­ing new mon­u­ments to their fallen an­ces­tors to this day, 156 years af­ter the Civil War.

Many peo­ple cling to the no­tion that “you can’t re­write his­tory” by tak­ing down stat­ues.

They are right — erect­ing or tak­ing down a statue doesn’t re­write his­tory. But Thomas is also right — they are mar­ket­ing tools, and tak­ing them down or putting them up does re­flect our chang­ing world view.

We re­write his­tory when we col­lec­tively change our minds about the mean­ing of past events.

We no longer buy the pro­pa­ganda that the Viet­nam war was fought to halt com­mu­nism or that the Iraq war stopped Sad­dam Hus­sain from de­ploy­ing weapons of mass destruc­tion.

We changed our world view about slav­ery and Jim Crow laws, which is why many want to change the names of schools named af­ter Ku Klux Klans­men and seg­re­ga­tion­ists, though, sadly, school seg­re­ga­tion it­self still goes on na­tion­wide.

It’s healthy for us to chal­lenge our na­tion’s world view even when our chal­lenges are un­pop­u­lar at the moment.

A ma­jor­ity of whites hated Martin Luther King Jr. but to­day we have a na­tional hol­i­day to cel­e­brate his achieve­ments and you can even find a statue or two of him around the place. stop blacks from


An Oct. 9 photo shows a van­dal­ized statue of Christo­pher Colum­bus in Bridge­port, Conn.’s Sea­side Park. A num­ber of sim­i­lar stat­ues have been de­faced across the coun­try. Cities in var­i­ous states do not cel­e­brate Colum­bus Day and in­stead cel­e­brate...

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