Christopher Columbus and revisionist history:

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

The proposal to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is an attempt to rewrite the age of discovery through the lens of the 21st century. Removed from the context of history, Christopher Columbus has been singled out as a villain according to current revisionist thinking.

In recent years, Americans have witnessed the removal of statues and artworks depicting Christopher Columbus from public spaces. In Los Angeles, a statue of Columbus was hidden from view during an Indigenous Peoples celebration and then permanently removed because some found the statue offensive. The University of Notre Dame covered up murals of Columbus, as some found these images offensive. Others – like myself - find the removal of statues and images representing Columbus to be morally akin to censorship and equally offensive. Actions to remove and replace are most often an attempt to revise history to fit with current political thinking. Revisionism poses a challenge to preserving our country’s history and traditions and to understanding Western thought and civilization.

Attempts to revise history go far back in time. These examples – ranging from the 3rd century BC to the present - represent efforts by revisionists to destroy what was offensive to them:

In 221 BC, Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang consolidated his power and rewrote history to advance a more favorable legacy of himself. Emperor Qin accomplished this by destroying much of Chinese written history. A quote attributed to him is “I have collected all the writings of the empire and burnt those of no use.”

During the Spanish Inquisition in the late 15th century, “heretical books” were burned - along with their authors. The inquisitors took offense with views contrary to the then-reigning Catholic orthodoxy.

100 years later in 1584, King Henry VIII ordered the library at Glasney College in Cornwall to be looted and its books burned. Glasney’s resources represented Rome’s ecclesiastical power and were offensive to the King’s revisionist theology.

In 1814, the British Army invaded Washington, D.C. and set fire to the Library of Congress. The British were offended by the documents that represented American liberty - the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

In 1933, under a campaign conducted by the German Student Union, the Nazis burned books they found offensive or representing ideologies that challenged their belief system. We know where Nazi intolerance and anti-Semitism led.

In 2001, the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar issued a special edict ordering the destruction of all non-Islamic statues. The Taliban destroyed two sandstone statues of the Buddha, the largest over 165 feet tall. These statues stood for 1,700 years before being machine-gunned and dynamited by the Taliban, who then went on to destroy more statues - all because the Mullah found offense with different spiritual paths.

In 2019, a memorial marker on the banks of the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi was replaced after it had been repeatedly vandalized. The memorial marker was for Emmett Till, a 14 year old African American, who in 1955 was kidnapped, tortured, lynched, and then thrown into the river. His “offense” was that he allegedly whistled at a white woman. His memorial has been repeatedly vandalized over the years because it offends the racist sensibilities of white supremacists.

History is replete with examples of revisionism on all sides of the political and religious spectrums. History has shown that if a group was offended by what was written or portrayed, that group would burn, remove, destroy, vandalize, or rewrite it to fit their group’s belief system. Today, this revisionist phenomenon is occurring with Christopher Columbus. Statues, memorials, artworks, books, and the holiday representing this historically significant person are being judged offensive through the narrow lens of political hindsight.

In our community, the World of Wellesley proposes to eliminate the name Columbus from the Columbus Day holiday and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. While I fully support honoring Native Americans, I do not believe that this should happen at the expense of striking Christopher Columbus from the holiday that has borne his name and been celebrated in the United States since the 18th century. By now, we should have learned enough from history to be wary of engaging in revisionist responses to those who claim offense.

Let’s find ways to keep Columbus in Columbus Day and to give Native Americans the recognition they truly deserve. Lets accomplish this by celebrating the two events in October and November, in accordance with their respective national heritage months. This time, let’s choose to amend history, not revise it. Michael A. Gigante Wellesley, MA