AGAIN WE NOTE AND DEBATE
Anti-Columbus fever is becoming virulent here in Michigan. State Senator Jeff Irwin has introduced legislation (Senate Bill 568) to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
No surprise he would take the lead in such an effort. Irwin is a Democrat from Ann Arbor, which adopted the awkwardly named celebration in 2016. Home of Irwin’s alma mater, the University of Michigan (and referred to frequently as “Berkeley on the Huron”), Ann Arbor is one of eight Michigan cities that have tossed Christopher Columbus overboard.
I recently read historian Hugh Thomas’ trilogy on the Spanish conquest of what would become Latin America: Rivers of Gold (2003), The Golden Age (2010), and World Without End (2014).
It’s a fascinating book series that offers a comprehensive, balanced assessment of the goods and the bads of this world-changing historical event (a process, really, carried on over more than two centuries).
Thomas’ work makes especially evident the contrast between the U.S. experience — rooted mostly in decentralized, entrepreneurial colonialism — and what unfolded to the south, which was an importation of royalist medievalism which Latin America has never fully transcended.
At this particular moment, when slavery is much discussed, these books also make clear how limited a portion of this vast human tragedy unfolded on the soil of what would be the United States. Indeed, most — an overwhelming majority — of captured Africans were taken to Mexico, Central and South America, and the islands of the Caribbean.
I mention all this in anticipation of Columbus Day, which this year will be observed on Monday, October 14. Likewise, I offer the thoughts below, first posted on this blog back in 2017…