The Attack on Columbus by Robert Ferrito


The Commission for Social Justice is the anti-defamation arm of the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America. The commission has, throughout the years, engaged in a wide variety of activities geared towards accomplishing its twin goals of promoting a positive image of Italian Americans and maintaining a strong conviction in fighting bias, bigotry, and defamation.

The Commission for Social Justice is woefully attuned to the groundswell sweeping our country regarding the removal/relocation of Christopher Columbus statues and monuments. We find the tone of Professor Allison Mickel’s July 11 Your View commentary “Columbus is still killing people” inflammatory and hateful.

The United States Government symbolically chose Columbus Day of 1942 as the day to formally remove the “enemy alien” designation that was applied to Italian immigrants during World War II.

Professor Mickel is obviously among those who rebuke and dismiss the extraordinary accomplishments of Christopher Columbus and choose to promote a negative, false, and deceptive commentary with accusations of opportunism, ruthlessness, greed, cruelty, violence, and an all-consuming thirst for glory.

These individuals would have people believe that every act of inhumanity and cruelty throughout the history of our nation began with Christopher Columbus, and the ills of mankind should rest squarely on his shoulders. This deception serves to undermine his reputation.

The Commission for Social Justice is determined to let our collective voices be heard with respect to the removal/relocation of statues and monuments dedicated to the memory of Christopher Columbus.

The arrival of Columbus in 1492 marked the start of recorded history in the Americas and the beginning of a cultural exchange between America and Europe. After Columbus, millions of European immigrants brought their art, music, science, medicine, philosophy, and religious principles to America.

The creation of statues and monuments in the likeness of Columbus commemorate the arrival on these shores of Italian immigrants, with more than four million arriving between 1880 and 1925. Today, the children and grand-

children of those early Italian Americans constitute the nation’s fifth-largest ethnic group. Italian Americans were declared a protected minority by Federal Judge Constance Motley Baker in a lawsuit brought against the City University of New York State (Scelsa v. CUNY).

Professor Mickel questioned “if Columbus were in fact worthy of admiration.” The answer is a resounding and unequivocal yes.

• Christopher Columbus accomplished extraordinary things during his life:

• Columbus proved that it was possible to safely cross the Atlantic.

• Columbus was the first European to realize the full importance of the Atlantic wind pattern called the prevailing Westerlies, which blew steadily east.

• Columbus’s transatlantic route lay the foundation for future navigation in the region. His maps were used by Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer for whom America is named.

• The route across the Atlantic Ocean that Columbus charted in the 15
th century is still used by sailors today.

• Columbus introduced the principles of compass variation (the variation at any point of the Earth’s surface between the magnetic north and true north).

• Columbus’s voyages marked the end of thousands of years of isolation between the Western Hemisphere and the rest of the world.

The Columbus statue that was vandalized in Providence, Rhode Island. In multiple cities and towns across the country, Columbus statues were vandalized. One was beheaded in the North End of Boston, Massachusetts, while others were torn down and thrown into bodies of water in Richmond, Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland. 

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An examination of the historical record shows he was not guilty of many of the things his modern detractors claim:

• Columbus was not a slave trader. He never owned slaves, nor did he bring any slaves to the Western Hemisphere from Africa. Columbus found slavery practiced in the Caribbean by the Caribs/Canibs, who made slaves of the tribes they conquered and may have tortured and eaten their victims. The Spanish arrival in the New World was the decisive factor that eventually ended human sacrifice and cannibalism.

• Columbus and other Europeans brought with them Old World agricultural techniques, including crop rotation and animal breeding. They introduced new tools, including the wheel, as well as new plants and domesticated animals, including the horse.

• Columbus was not a racist. No evidence indicates that Columbus thought the islanders he met were racially inferior in any way. According to
Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem by Carol Delaney, in the journal of his first voyage, Columbus praised their generosity, innocence, and intelligence.

Columbus Day was first proclaimed a national celebration by President Benjamin Harrison in response to the 11 Italian immigrants lynched in New Orleans in 1891—the largest lynching in United States history.

• Columbus did not commit genocide. No one knows exactly how many people were in the Western Hemisphere when the Europeans arrived. Many researchers believe the number to be around 40 million. Columbus made four voyages to the Caribbean in a 12-year period (1492-1504), spending from only seven months to two years and nine months (including the year he was shipwrecked on his fourth voyage). While there was armed conflict with the Spanish who came with Columbus and stayed after he left, there is no evidence of the kind of mass slaughter that was practiced later in Central and South America.

• New medical research on pre-Columbian mummies in Peru, Chile, and remote areas far from the early European colonies reveals that tuberculosis, long thought European in origin, was present among the Native American tribes before the arrival of Columbus.

A statue of Cristopher Columbus in Santa Margherita
Ligure, a town in the Liguria region of Italy.
(Roberto Lo Savio)

The Commission for Social Justice remains determined to continue the preservation of the memory of Christopher Columbus and the significant part he played in the history of the Americas.

To Italian Americans, statues and monuments erected in memory of Christopher Columbus represent not only the accomplishments and contributions of Italian Americans, but also the indelible spirit of risk, sacrifice, and self-reliance of a great Italian icon.

Robert Ferrito is President of the Commission for Social Justice of the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America.

See Page 33 of this issue for how you can help the Commission for Social Justice and President Robert Ferrito defend and protect Columbus’s statues and legacy.

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