Photo by Robb Ebright
Monday was Columbus Day all across the nation. Perhaps this is a good time to reflect on the real legacy of that conquistador. As James Baldwin once put it, “What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors.” One of the best ways to reconsider Columbus is to read the diaries of Columbus and Bartoleme de Las Casas. Las Casas’ extensive writings, including his most famous – “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies” – gives us insight into the namesake of our city. Here’s the good Friar Las Casas' summary of Christopher Columbus’ activities in America: “What we committed in the Indies stands out among the most unpardonable offenses ever committed against God and mankind and this trade [in Indian slaves] as one of the most unjust, evil, and cruel among them.” I know what you’re thinking. Just because Columbus was the creator of the slave trade in America, doesn’t mean he wasn’t a pretty good darn navigator. So when we honor Columbus, we honor a man who sent the first slaves across the Atlantic from the New World – an estimated 5,000 or so humans. Not only was Columbus a slave trader, he sold native girls as young as nine into sexual slavery. In 1500, Columbus recorded in his log the following: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.” Las Casas also recorded this statement: “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel.” He wrote that Columbus’ sailors “…made bets as to who would split a man in two or cut off his head at one blow...” As for his primary motivation, he recorded, “But in truth, should I meet with gold or spices in great quantity, I shall remain til I collect as much as possible, and for this purpose and proceeding solely in quest of them.” Las Casas observed “Endless testimonies…proved the mild and pacific temperament of the natives…But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy…” Columbus caused the genocide against the Native people known as the Tainos. “These people are very unskilled in arms…with 50 men they could all be subjugated and made to do all that one wished,” Columbus wrote. Those people who wish to celebrate Columbus must first concede they are celebrating a mass murderer. Who we pick to worship and name our city after, tells us a lot about ourselves. As George Orwell put it, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” Between 1925 and 1961, the city of Volgograd was known as Stalingrad, until their people rose up and decided they didn’t want to be named after a mass murderer. Also, between 1924 to 1991, Petrograd was known as Leningrad, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union came the re-naming of the city. So in the shadow of Columbus Day, we must ask ourselves – why don’t the leaders of Columbus have the same courage as those in Russia, who re-named Stalingrad and Leningrad? Would we not demand that any city named Hitlerville be re-named to honor his victims and never forget. Thus, the Columbus Free Press is calling upon all of our readers to forward your choice as a new name for the city of Columbus. We will hold a vote among our readers and announce our proposal as a new name for our city.