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Why the brutal history of Christopher Columbus has become a focal point of racial tensions in the US today

Statue of Christopher Columbus vandalized in Houston
Statue of Christopher Columbus vandalized in Houston

Several Christopher Columbus statues in the U.S., including one in Houston, were defaced by protesters as tensions on systematic racism are on the rise nationwide.

The statue, in the Houston Museum District’s Bell Park, that was defaced Thursday morning was a gift from the Federation of Italian-American Organizations of Greater Houston in Columbus’ 500-year anniversary in 1992.

Columbus, an Italian explorer, is celebrated for his accidental discovery of the Americas in the late 1400s and has been hailed a hero for more than 500 years. But for several years, historians have dug deeper into his violent past and the way he treated Indigenous people.

The controversial history of Columbus

According to HISTORY, Columbus kept a diary throughout his travels through the New World, where, upon discovering Indigenous People in the areas he visited, he called them “obstacles.”

Columbus also participated in international slave trade in 1496, transporting more than 400 slaves from Africa while on his expedition to Hispanola (now the Dominican Republic), leaving the region to dispute the status of each slave. He had also enacted policies of forced labor in which Indigenous people were forced to work for the profit of European colonizers.

As civil unrest grew in Hispanola in 1498, Columbus responded by brutally killing natives en masse and later parading their dismembered torsos in an attempt to deter future rebellion, Spanish historians found in 2005.

Columbus and his European settlers are also blamed for devastating outbreaks of disease among the Indigenous people, leading to the wiping out of massive chunks of the native population.

Today, many cities and states in the U.S. have dropped celebrations of Columbus Day in October and instead celebrate “Indigenous Peoples Day” to stand in solidarity with Native Americans.


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