The second Monday of October is a national holiday, yet other than federal offices and banks being closed, most Americans are hard-pressed to remember it is Columbus Day.
As the Stars and Stripes were conspicuously missing from front yards and porches throughout northwest Kansas yesterday, we can’t help but wonder why the holiday even exists. While Christopher Columbus was real, his legacy is more myth than fact.
Of course, generations of U.S. schoolchildren were taught Columbus discovered America. We know the year 1492 and the three ships his crew sailed across the Atlantic Ocean — the Nińa, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. And we also recall he was determined to prove to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that the world was not flat.
As we grew older we were introduced to information that simply didn’t fit the “Columbus as hero” narrative. Contradictions abound that makes one question how history books ever printed the phrase, “Columbus discovered America.”
It is simply not true.
Here’s what history has recorded:
• Columbus never set foot on land that was to become the United States. Of the four voyages he took, the closest he got was the Bahamas. Oct. 12, 1492, actually was the date his crew arrived there.
• Columbus also raised the Spanish flag in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and other locations in Central and South America. Claiming them for the Spanish empire, wresting control of the lands from natives who had survived and thrived for thousands of years prior, is difficult to label a “discovery.”
• Many of the indigenous people he met he enslaved. Initially he was convinced he had made it around the world to China and India, and Columbus needed servants to mine and harvest the riches he knew were there. The explorer kept slaves in line via mutilation and murder.
• Most educated Europeans had known the world was round for centuries.
• Columbus was stripped of title and fortune by the Spanish crown, at least for a time, because of his mistreatment of Spanish colonists.
To be sure, Christopher Columbus was a brave explorer and navigator who opened up trade routes between Europe and Central and South America.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who first proclaimed the U.S. national holiday in 1937 after intense lobbying by Italian-American groups, once offered this: “Each recurrence of Columbus Day brings to all of us a greater appreciation of the heritage we have received as a result of the faith and courage and fortitude of the Genoese navigator and his brave companions.”
History always tends to favor the winners. In the case of Columbus, it borders on the ridiculous. For the United States of America to honor an individual who never set foot on our land and who committed atrocities on the lands he did visit is questionable at the very least.
It is time for Congress to revisit this inappropriate holiday. As it was this body’s approval that further embellished the myth of Christopher Columbus, it can only be undone by federal lawmakers. Quit celebrating a myth we all know is inaccurate.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry