Christopher Columbus did not set out to prove that the world was round (educated people had proven the flat-Earthers wrong centuries earlier). He was not the first European to cross the Atlantic (that title goes to Norse Viking Leif Eriksson). And he never, ever — not once — set foot on what is today the United States of America; he didn’t even make it to the North American continent. (He landed on a Bahamian island during his famous 1492 journey.) Even the story of his ship names is false: The Niña and the Pinta you were told about in school? Really the Santa Clara and the nobody-remembers-anymore, but definitely not “Pinta,” which was a nickname bestowed on the boat by “salty sailors,” according to History.com, that meant “painted one” or “prostitute.”
Those are the myths that have long been perpetuated about the Italian master navigator, who might not even have been Italian; there are theories out there that he was Portuguese, Spanish or possibly even Scottish. Now here are the realities: Columbus indeed charted a path leading to European colonization of the Americas. And he absolutely terrorized the Taino people Indigenous to the Caribbean. He and his men killed them, abducted them, enslaved them, raped them, chopped off their hands for not delivering gold dust on demand and — according to a firsthand account by Bartolomé de las Casas, a participant turned repentant Dominican friar — “grabbed suckling infants by the feet and, ripping them from their mothers’ breasts, dashed them headlong against the rocks.”
Likewise, there are some myths and realities we should discuss about the protesters who tore down the Christopher Columbus statue near Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood and chucked it into the harbor. Those who consider them an un-American angry mob might want to take another look at history themselves: Tearing down symbols deemed offensive is something of a patriotic tradition in this country, going back to the birth of our independence.
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