As the country grapples with contemporary civil unrest, protesters have turned their attention to a figure from the fifteenth century: Christopher Columbus. As a result, Mayor Jim Kenney announced that he will “ask the Art Commission on July 22 to approve the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue because ‘of ongoing public safety concerns about the presence of armed individuals at Marconi Plaza.'” Interestingly, in doing so, Kenney will be accomplishing the very thing the KKK wanted to accomplish in the 19th and early 20th century.

Efforts to remove Columbus have roots in the dogma of white supremacy. Long known for attacks on African-Americans, the KKK also wreaked havoc on Italian immigrants in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Catholics were also terrorized. Many of the contemporary criticisms of Columbus echo the KKK’s attacks upon Italians and Catholics, when the hate group sought to erase Columbus from American history. Today, objections to celebrating Columbus come from radical leftist groups such as Antifa — effectively carrying on the KKK’s mission. Mayor Kenney has now joined them.

Today, objections to celebrating Columbus come from radical leftist groups such as Antifa — effectively carrying on the KKK’s mission. Mayor Kenney has now joined them.

Celebrating Columbus in the United States dates back to the time right after we ratified the Constitution, with the first celebration occurring in 1792 in New York to commemorate the 300th anniversary of his expedition. A century later, President Benjamin Harrison celebrated the 400th anniversary by encouraging Americans to “devote themselves to such exercises as may best express honor to the discoverer and their appreciation of the great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life.” In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who courted the Catholic vote, declared Columbus Day a national holiday.

The KKK attacked celebrations of Columbus by promoting negative propaganda to denigrate Italians and Catholics. The KKK demonized Catholics as “gun-toting revolutionaries who mobilized around Columbus to take over the country.” The KKK intimidated a school board in Easton, PA., from erecting a statue of Columbus in 1929, because Columbus was an “alien” and “did not discover America and … a memorial of this kind would be very misleading to the future citizens of the city.” The KKK also terrorized a Richmond community until plans for a Columbus statue were eventually scrapped.

A Newsweek opinion piece noted that the KKK performed such heinous acts as terrorizing supporters of Columbus Day, vandalizing statues of Columbus, trying to remove it as a state holiday in Oregon, and even burning a cross to “disturb a Columbus Day celebration in Pennsylvania.”

Sound familiar?

Hailed as the discoverer of America, most Americans who trace their ancestry to Italy revere Christopher Columbus and his place in history. While indigenous people long lived here before he arrived, his exploration opened up the Americas to Europe and forever changed human civilization — an achievement most definitely worth commemorating.

More than simply an explorer, Columbus facilitated immeasurable social, economic and political change. His exploration helped advanced a heliocentric model of the solar system which challenged the science of the time. Additionally, he contested the idea that some believed that the Earth was not round. As a navigator, he introduced the concept of reaching the east by going west. His exploration introduced Europe to the New World: the continents of North and South America paved the way for future explorers.

Those who now push to remove Columbus from American lore predicate their movement on his alleged treatment of Native American tribes he encountered upon his arrival, and the subsequent displacement of them by future European settlers. Some accuse Columbus of tyranny and other evils in connection with his colonization efforts of the New World. Supporters of Columbus note that conquest and the subsequent clash of civilizations in the Americas mirrored many such events throughout the history of humanity. Additionally, many say that long before Columbus, Native American tribes committed similar atrocities against each other.

Those who oppose honoring Columbus portray Native Americans as a uniformly peaceful people before the appearance of European settlers. However, the truth is more complex than that utopian myth. Many historians agree that the indigenous people of North America conquered and killed each other long before any European settler set foot on the continent, as Columbus noted in his journal. Upon arriving into the New World, Columbus wrote: “I saw some with scars of wounds upon their bodies…that there came people from the other islands in the neighborhood who endeavored to make prisoners of them, and they defended themselves.”

While our country’s education system seldom touches on this darker side of American history, numerous scholars have documented the brutality of Native Americans. Harvard scholar, Steven Pinker, wrote that indigenous societies were “far more violent than our own.” In Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage, anthropologist Lawrence Keeley wrote, “the dogs of war were seldom on a leash” among Native American societies.

The history of Native American tribes reveals a shocking disregard for the lives of their fellow indigenous people. Just a few examples include the Chippewa tribe forcing the Sioux from their land in what is present-day Minnesota. In return, the Sioux massacred the Omaha, the Kiowa, as well as the Pawnee tribe, lusting for their resources and territory.

Also, consider the Aztecs, who brutally raped, pillaged, and enslaved to build their empire. Historical accounts of the Aztecs alone reveal an “industry of human sacrifice unlike any other in the world.” Yet, some Indigenous People’s Day celebrations are honoring the Aztecs.

In the fervor to scrub the scourge of Columbus from present day society, why do protesters ignore the sins of indigenous people while excoriating Columbus? Why the hypocrisy?

Perhaps the current rabble rousers direct invective at Columbus to distract from their true target: the American systems of capitalism and democracy. Using Columbus as a proxy allows an indirect discrediting of the foundations of our nation through manipulation of our historical roots to reshape American society to fit their radical standards.

In the fervor to scrub the scourge of Columbus from present day society, why do protesters ignore the sins of indigenous people while excoriating Columbus? Why the hypocrisy?

Sanctimonious 21st century social justice advocates judge Columbus unfairly, tinged by their own ulterior motives. Those truly interested in historical accuracy should view Columbus through the lens of 15th century civilization, considering as well the history of conquest that preceded him. In recent weeks, city officials in Wilmington, Delaware and Camden, New Jersey removed Columbus statutes. Residents of South Philly, sensing that the statue of Columbus located in Marconi Plaza was under attack, sprang into action with an ad hoc security force of concerned neighbors.

As leftist mobs have revitalized the efforts of the KKK and decimated city after city with puritanical fury, many Americans of Italian descent, who celebrate the Italian-born Columbus as a significant part of their heritage, have decided enough is enough. Their message? Leave Columbus alone!

Cherry-picking historical narratives to suit a modern political agenda constitutes pandering at its worst. Perhaps if we as a society better understood the complexities of history, we would debate the story of Columbus and learn from it — not cleanse it from our collective conscience. Ultimately, if Mayor Kenney’s actions emulate those of the KKK, whose side is he really on?

Chris Tremoglie attends the University of Pennsylvania and recently completed his honors thesis on “Did Glasnost and Perestroika Cause a Rise in Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict in the Post-Soviet Balkans?” He is a summer associate at Broad + Liberty. @chris_tremoglie

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3 thoughts on “Chris Tremoglie: Leftists’ attacks on Columbus are bad history”

  1. Thank you for stating a well-rounded perspective…I also have read Conquest of Mexico by Hugh Thomas and other weighty tomes are next on my reading list…There is also the film Black Robe where one can see the brutality of the Iroquois…The histories of the world’s people must be taken in context — not measured with a facile “wish it was — want it to now be” New Age sentimentality…This is certainly not to say corrections can’t be made but I advocate for building on an UNDERSTANDING of past instead of destroying it for just the latest dogma — THAT is why we still need archaeologists, scholarly historians, and skilled conservators now more than ever — and why I will never regret traveling with the University of Pennsylvania Women’s Committee to see the cultural treasures for myself…Yes I spent that kind of money to take several archaeology tours to know and be surrounded by the achievements of the past…I live within a block of the Marconi Plaza Columbus statue…I was mortified NOT by my South Philly neighbors who were instigated by upheavals and statue tear downs across the country but by the IGNORANT college students (about 20 of them) who with all their elite education openly ridiculed the working class of South Philly for wanting to save THEIR gift from the city’s Centennial Celebration of 1876, itself a gift from a nationalized Italian homeland in honor of family coming to America…

  2. You Definitely Know What Being A Philadelphian Is All About. You Are Spot On. The Mayor Has No Clue What He Is Doing To Our Great City & The Birth Of Our Country.

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