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Defenders of Columbus try to save explorer from “cancel culture”


Shutterstock | Pamela Au

Zelda Caldwell - published on 10/11/21

Knights of Columbus produced a documentary film to set the record straight on the “real Columbus”

In an attempt to counter efforts to “cancel” Christopher Columbus, the Knights of Columbus has produced a video that portrays the Italian explorer as an imperfect hero who has been unfairly recast as a villain for political reasons.

While Columbus Day remains a federal holiday in the United States, on Friday, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation that the day would also be known as “Indigenous People’s Day.” The move follows successful lobbying in more than a dozen states and 100 cities to establish an Indigenous People’s Day (in some cases replacing Columbus Day), by activists who say the hero of Italian Americans committed violence against the Native people he encountered in the New World.

The 30-minute documentary, “Courage and Conviction: The True Story of Christopher Columbus,” released last year, reminds viewers that the statues of Columbus that protesters have demanded be toppled were, in fact, erected in response to racism. President Benjamin Harrison in 1891 instituted the first Columbus Day to honor the contributions of immigrant and Native Americans. This was a tense time in American history — in the months after a lynch mob of 10,000 people murdered 11 Italian Americans in New Orleans, and Native people were brutally killed at the massacre of Wounded Knee.

The film attempts to set the record straight about Columbus. In doing so, it tells the familiar story of Columbus’ tenacity in securing a reluctant King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain as patrons of his voyage, and of his courage in setting out on a dangerous voyage where no men had dared go before. To add to that much-told tale, the film’s makers chronicle the explorer’s four voyages to the New World. And it is here that a picture emerges of two aspects of Columbus. 

First, he is seen Columbus as a navigator/evangelizer with a great love and respect for the Indigenous people he met. His efforts to baptize native people, the film says, were made not just for the sake of their souls, but to protect them from slavery, since at that time, under Spanish law, a baptized person could not be enslaved.

And secondly, he is seen as a victim of his time. The violence that was committed under Columbus’ watch, the film explains, was a result of the state of war that existed between rival chieftains before Columbus and his men set foot on the island of Hispaniola. That, along with the prevalence of slavery at the time, settlers who didn’t follow Columbus’ orders, and his own poor administrative skills, made Columbus a better navigator than a governor, according to the film.

This imperfect record, we learn, has been twisted and amplified for political purposes by revisionist historians, including Howard Zinn, whose The People’s History of the United States (1980), created a “distorted depiction of Columbus’ voyages and explorations.”

Today New York is holding its first Columbus Day Parade since the global COVID-19 pandemic. Its survival in the current tense political atmosphere, is evidence of the great pride Italian-Americans take in Christopher Columbus. With this documentary, the Knights hope to keep his memory alive for future generations.

Watch the documentary here:

Knights of Columbus
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