The Week (US)
America is erasing our contributions
American “cancel culture” has come for a Frenchman, said Raphaëlle Rérolle. The U.S. has been undergoing a racial reckoning in the past few years, with Confederate monuments being felled across the South. Even memorials for the early presidents are being reconsidered, because so many of the Founders owned slaves. Now the cancelers are going after Jean Ribault, the first Frenchman to gain a foothold in the New World, in 1562, and a man long revered on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2012, Ribault’s descendants—who live in Lyon—traveled from France to Florida to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the French captain’s landing in what is now Jacksonville. But today activists
are agitating to remove Ribault’s name from a high school and a middle school in Jacksonville, calling him a colonizer who was responsible for the extermination of Native Americans. They have it wrong. Ribault, who hoped to find in the New World “a possible refuge for the persecuted Huguenots,” a Protestant minority, had “peaceful relations” with the indigenous people he encountered. In his memoirs, he described them as kind and said that unlike other Europeans he “refused to deceive them.” If later settlers abused the indigenous population, that is surely not Ribault’s fault. Such details, though, may be lost in the “storm” of historical revisionism sweeping the U.S.