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Christopher Columbus Isn’t the Guy We Learned About in School

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Many cities around the country have been taking down controversial statues in their town squares, parks, and memorial sites either by force from protestors or through government ordinances pushed by public pressure. These monuments, memorials, and statues typically embody symbols of racism and hate, like the confederate flag and a statue of Thomas Jefferson, who was an enslaver.

As this movement has been happening all over the country, one controversial (and quite popular) historical figure has come back into the spotlight: Christopher Columbus.

The debate of whether Christopher Columbus is a hero or a villain has been reignited.

Though the fight to expose the truth about Christopher Columbus and his “explorations” of the United States is nothing new, there has been a resurgence in the need to take action against monuments and shrines dedicated to the Italian. And while some are just talking about what needs to be done to change this narrative, others are not so patient.

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Recently, a Christopher Columbus statue in Richmond, Va., was torn down by protesters, set on fire, and then submerged into a lake. Another Christopher Columbus statue in Boston was decapitated.

Christopher Columbus saw Indigenous people as an opportunity for free labor.

According to History Channel, Christopher Columbus encountered Indigenous people throughout his voyages, and there are three main sources of controversy involving his interactions with the Indigenous people that he labeled “Indians” in his journals. First, the use of violence and slavery; second, the forced conversion of native peoples to Christianity; and lastly, the introduction of a host of new diseases that would have dramatic long-term effects on native people in the Americas.

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History explained further, “On his first day in the New World, he ordered six of the natives to be seized, writing in his journal that he believed they would be good servants. Throughout his years in the New World, Columbus enacted policies of forced labor in which natives were put to work for the sake of profits.”

Christopher Columbus was stripped of his title.

Biography.com explains that when Christopher Columbus arrived in Hispaniola, he encountered a population of native people called the Taino. “They were very well built, with very handsome bodies and very good faces,” Columbus wrote in his diary. “They do not carry arms or know them...They should be good servants.” 

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The natives were soon forced into slavery and punished with the loss of a limb or death if they did not collect enough gold (a portion of which Columbus was allowed to keep for himself). Between the Europeans' brutal treatment and their infectious diseases, within decades, the Taino population was virtually obliterated.

In 1499, the Spanish monarchs got wind of the mistreatment of Spanish colonists in Hispaniola, and Christopher Columbus, who was governor of the territory at the time, was arrested, chained up, and brought back to Spain. Columbus admitted to what he did, and he was stripped of his title as governor.

These statues, like those of Christopher Columbus, glorify tarnished historical figures.

Melissa Iakowi:he'ne' Oakes, the executive director of the nonprofit American Indian Community House, told ABC News that now is the right time to remove the 128-year-old statue in NYC's Columbus Circle because the city did not need a monument to glorify a figure who had a history of destroying and enslaving Indigenous people.

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"I think with everything that is going on now … I don’t see why (the city) would have an argument against keeping the Christopher Columbus statue," she told ABC News.

If you are looking for ways to donate your time or money to Black Lives Matter and other antiracist organizations, we have created a list of resources to get you started.

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