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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Columbus Day Again

Columbus has been much romanticized over the years, as in this 1893 catalog art and in annual parades on innumerable main streets like this one. Communities all around the nation even named themselves after him to celebrate his role as a great hero.

But in recent years, the dark side of his career has become better known, and some communities around the nation have begun celebrating Native Americans Day or Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday in October instead of Columbus Day. Even Ronald Reagan called for it, in 1968, and these days are official state holidays in some states.

Columbus was a great explorer and visionary, but he also unleashed a tidal wave of suffering on the Americans who lived here when he arrived. We've put the most important eyewitness accounts of his career online in our American Journeys digital collection. They reveal cruelty and ineptitude on a massive scale. One is reminded of the story about Mahatma Gandhi, who when asked what he thought of Western civilization, is said to have replied, "I think it would be a good idea."

Disapproval of the great explorer is not just modern revisionism. Some of his contemporaries were appalled by the cruelties he ordered. Columbus was such an unsuccessful colonial administrator that he was eventually sent home in chains and ended his life in obscurity.

Was Columbus a hero or a villain - - or both?

Visit our American Journeys collection and make up your own mind. After all, it's your history.

:: Posted in Odd Lives on October 6, 2011
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