In The Reporter’s latest poll concerning Columbus Day, 69.2% of voters said they were in favor of the holiday while 30. 8% said they were against it.
Though the results were overwhelmingly pro, one respondent captured the nationwide debate over Christopher Columbus’s legacy, commenting that it was a “gray area” that appeared good for one population but bad for another.
Columbus Day has become one of those touchy subjects upon which so many have become armchair experts. It’s typically one of the first bits of history we learn in grade school, that in 1492, Columbus traversed the treacherous and hitherto unexplored Atlantic blue and discovered the New World.
This discovery undoubtedly and irrevocably changed the course of world history. Throughout much of that history, Columbus was upheld as a pioneer, hero and one of the greatest explorers and navigators ever.
More recently, however, his likeness and name have been stripped from places of prominence as some have reinterpreted his accomplishments in a negative light.
Particularly how he treated the Native Americans — or Indians, as he called them — who were already here when he landed. Hence the movement to rebrand Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day.
There exist compelling arguments and debunks both for and against celebrating Columbus Day. A simple internet search will bring up historical records and even Columbus’s own diary entries to support claims of villainy.
Since most of us are not, in fact, historians, it can be difficult to parse out the evidence either way, which is why most default to whichever narrative their political side adheres to. Of course, that doesn’t make it wrong, just next to impossible to discuss in a nuanced way.
In reality, Columbus probably wasn’t as good a man as some think, but he certainly wasn't as bad either. And though that’s become the focus, it never was why we gave him a day in the first place.
Columbus Day was reportedly celebrated as far back as 1792 in Massachusetts and nationally 100 years later. Then President Benjamin Harrison declared a one-time countrywide celebration in 1892 to ease tensions following a lynching of Italian-Americans — who yet remain some of the strongest supporters of Columbus — in New Orleans. It became an official federal holiday in 1968.
History remembers the great events and people who altered the course of time. “Great” in that sense doesn’t necessarily denote good or evil, but significant. Love or hate him, it cannot be smartly argued that Columbus opening up the New World to the Old was insignificant.
No matter what macabre accusations are lobbed at him, his importance to world and American history cannot be overstated and deserves to be remembered, and perhaps even celebrated with his own day. If you can’t stomach Columbus the man, then celebrate the courage and drive he represents and inspires.
The Reporter wishes all of its readers a happy Columbus Day!
Our View On the Issue is an opinion of The Reporter’s editorial board.