Gadfly closes in on a Columbus decision

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

“The (his)stories we tell shape the lives that we lead”
Gadfly

In our role playing exercise, we have mentally taken two options off the Mayor’s list of ways to respond to the resident petition to remove the Columbus monument in the Rose Garden.

  • deny the request, allow the monument to stand.
  • issue a formal statement agreeing with the negative view of Columbus, disavowing his actions relative the Native Americans, but letting the monument stand as is.
  • add additional “educational” information about Columbus and his legacy at the monument site.
  • add a monument celebrating Indigenous people to the monument site as balance of perspective on 1492.
  • replace the monument with a new one representing the complex nature of Columbus’s legacy.
  • replace the monument with a monument to an Italian of less ambiguous heroic stature.
  • move the monument to private property.
  • remove the monument.

Let’s move on and dispose of two more.

Gadfly thinks it is important that we tell the Columbus story, the whole story.

He believes “the (his)stories we tell shape the lives that we lead,” a soundbite slogan he used in his classes to remind students of the present importance of the past. Gadfly never saw history as dead facts about the past.

To Gadfly, for the one monument in Bethlehem relative to Columbus to portray him only as a great sailor ignores the purpose to which that skill was applied, the end to which that means served. We now recognize that the principal legacy of Columbus was the “destruction of the Indies” — I borrow the title of a frightening book written by a witness whose early life overlapped Columbus’s.

For that reason — if he were mayor — Gadfly would not consider these two options:

  • replace the monument with a monument to an Italian of less ambiguous heroic stature.
  • move the monument to private property.

For these options skirt the issue, they dodge the need to tell the whole Columbus story.

Though they are politic.

Gadfly perhaps shows here why he would never be a good politician. Too idealistic.

The Mayor could breathe a sigh of relief if UNICO or the Bethlehem Italian American community would willingly fund another statue or find a new place for this one. One would guess that overwhelming opinion would be that the former option is impractical financially even if it were otherwise palatable, but the latter option is appealing because now the controversial monument is on public land. Move it to private property and the petitioners would be satisfied. Ha! he boldly thinks!

But Gadfly prefers not to be politic.

So he would take two more options off his list of actions, though he can certainly see the Mayor using his power of persuasion with the Italian American representatives and his considerable influence with city property owners to find an alternate site for the monument.

Gadfly’s train of thought on the Columbus issue productively interrupted

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

Gadfly goes slow, showing you the process of his thinking.

Which invites you to think along.

And which allows you to interrupt that process.

Gadfly’s flow of thinking on the Columbus issue was productively interrupted yesterday by comments on his posts by Peter Crownfield (here) and Bud Hackett (here).

Let me explain before moving on.

Peter’s comment:

In a previous post Gadfly made a point of saying that he read so-called banned books like Mein Kamp and was glad to have the opportunity, the freedom to do so, was glad that they had not been “removed” from his consideration. He was using the analogy of a library where you had access to information for explication, for balance, for perspective, for context, for refutation of the bad books. But Peter made me think about the difference between an offensive book quietly closed on a library shelf that you have to seek out and an offensive statue in public — perhaps in a very public place, maybe an unavoidable public place — and therefore whose disturbing presence and aggravating effect is out of your control, a continual irritant, because it’s literally in your face. That difference hadn’t registered with me till Peter called attention to it. But having done so that new awareness of the difference between book and statue triggered a nagging doubt that you saw Gadfly express yesterday about the secluded nature of our Columbus monument. It is not in anybody’s face. Most definitely. Put this together with a point made by Anthony Kronman (in the book noted below that Bud recommended) about keeping a “sense of proportion” in raising issues so as not to waste your capital with potential allies. Are the petitioners wasting their capital on a monument not in the public eye? In a practical sense, is this Bethlehem issue, for instance, on a par, say, with the 18-20ft. Columbus statue on busy Riverside Drive in Easton?

Bud’s comment:

Bud asked us to read Anthony Kronman’s The Assault on American Excellence (2019). By the magic of Amazon one-day delivery, Gadfly was able to get the book yesterday. Kronman’s chapter on “Memory” is provocative. Now it’s important to note that he is talking about offensive statues (and building names, etc.) on college campuses not in cities, and he’s talking about the responsibility of college presidents to the students entrusted to them for the kind of education a democratic society requires not the responsibility of a mayor whose job is to provide public safety and pave streets, etc. for city residents — utilitarian services. But Kronman articulates better what I was trying to get at in arguing that the Columbus statue shouldn’t be removed (except in extreme circumstance) because it is a teachable moment. Kronman’s counter-intuitive, suggesting you can do more good by leaving such displays alone. He suggests, for instance, that removing a monument like the Columbus one is counter-productive. By masking the past, removing a monument obscures the legacy of oppression rather than addressing it, and retaining such a monument continually forces us to confront what human beings just like us are capable of and what we might do again — fostering humble recognition of our own human weakness and a resolve not to repeat that or similar activity. Removing a statue, he suggests, erasing a visible representation of past evil, may, like removing a thorn from your side, give you temporary comfort, but, he goes on, facing the past rather than running from it produces strength, “a community with the courage to live with its past.”

Tip o’ the hat to Peter and to Bud for the mental exercise.

Gadfly a step closer toward taking a position on the Columbus monument issue

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

Gadfly enjoys role playing. And enjoys encouraging you to do so.

He thinks we learn a lot. Standing in the other person’s shoes.

So Gadfly cannot imagine the Mayor doing nothing in response to the request from 120+ residents to remove the Columbus monument from city space, the Rose Garden.

Rather, more specifically, he can’t imagine the Mayor justifying doing nothing.

He can’t imagine himself — role playing as Mayor — sitting across the table from a deputation from those residents (some, no doubt, people of color), can’t imagine stepping up to a microphone, can’t imagine looking into a tv camera and justifying doing nothing.

Can you? Try it. Get a mirror, and take your best shot.

Though Gadfly must admit that, looking back on the reasons he gave in yesterday’s post, the one bullet he’s wavering on is the one about the location. The monument is truly unobtrusive, small in scale, and little regarded. Perhaps a case for leaving it alone could be made on that basis. Perhaps.

In any event, let’s take that first option for mayoral action off the table:

  • deny the request, allow the monument to stand.
  • issue a formal statement agreeing with the negative view of Columbus, disavowing his actions relative the Native Americans, but letting the monument stand as is.
  • add additional “educational” information about Columbus and his legacy at the monument site.
  • add a monument celebrating Indigenous people to the monument site as balance of perspective on 1492.
  • replace the monument with a new one representing the complex nature of Columbus’s legacy.
  • replace the monument with a monument to an Italian of less ambiguous heroic stature.
  • move the monument to private property.
  • remove the monument.

What to do? What next? What are the other options?

Let’s go to the bottom of the list and consider the polar option of removing the monument.

This, of course, is literally what the petitioners request:

“This letter written in solidarity with protests across the country calls for removal of the Christopher Columbus monument located in the Bethlehem Rose Garden. The monument was installed in 1992 by the now-defunct Bethlehem chapter of Unico, an Italian-American service organization. It was commissioned, as stated on the inscription, ‘to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America’.”

(This is a good spot to bring in — as follower John has been nudging Gadfly — the fact that Leif Erikson is credited as the first European to touch down on North America, a full 500 years before Columbus, There you go, John!)

While recognizing Italian American reverence for Columbus, the petitioner letter essentially gives three reasons for removal: the monument conveys misinformation about the discovery of America, Columbus is not a hero, and the monument is incompatible with a city that celebrates diversity.

Should the Mayor, without adieu, accede to the petitioner argument and remove the monument from city property? If you were Mayor, would you agree with the petitioners and remove the monument?

Still have that mirror? Imagine denying those three reasons.

Gadfly couldn’t, wouldn’t.

While agreeing substantially with the petitioners, however, Gadfly would look for an option short of that we might call the “nuclear option” of removal.

Gadfly is not a fan of “cancel culture” (see Bud Hackett’s comment on yesterday’s post). News images of crowds tearing down statues of Confederate figures in the South distresses him greatly. Too much like book burnings. Gives him the shivers.

Gadfly is an historian.

History is history. The good and bad. The beautiful and the ugly. What you agree with and what you don’t.

Gadfly is an educator.

History is an endless collection of teachable moments.

That America needed a hero in the 1870s, that Italian Americans were discriminated against and needed a hero at the turn of the 20th century, that Italians in Easton needed self-affirmation and pooled their hard-earned money to erect a monument in the 1930s, that Italians in Bethlehem did the same in the 1990s are indelible facts of history and need to be understood.

And if there is something wrong, something to be criticized, something to be rued, knowledge is the antidote. Except in circumstances extraordinarily extreme.

Idealistic Gadfly would hope that with proper knowledge a monument to Columbus that does not tell the full story, that portrays only a half-truth would not have been built in the first place.

But it is important that we recognize (not forget, not deny the very existence of) the fact that at a certain time in our cultural development the curators of the public history of our beginnings as a nation tended to render indigenous peoples invisible, tended to render the injustices “we” committed against them as invisible.

Of course, Gadfly would hope you would agree that many of those actions would now be deemed injustices.

So history should not be erased. History is not a palimpsest,

Gadfly can sit on the bench next to the Columbus monument in the Rose Garden, recognize its intention, and, most importantly, recognize its shortcomings, and reflect on how as a culture we have progressed in our understanding of the past that is crucial to our understanding of the present.

He can bring his knowledge to bear on the monument.

Here’s what comes to Gadfly’s mind when he thinks of removing the monument.

Gadfly has read the bad books, the banned books.

He has read Mein Kampf. He has read Mao Tse-Tung’s Little Red Book. He has read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. He has read the Marquis de Sade.

Gadfly has read the bad books, the banned books.

And would have it no other way.

For next to these books on his library shelves were other books to provide balance and perspective. And he read them too.

He understands the world better for having everything available.

For this reason Gadfly is not a fan of “cancel culture,” would not favor a bare removal of that fairly secluded Columbus monument in the Rose Garden.

Now that’s a pretty elite view. Many people will not have Gadfly’s “library” advantage.

And it’s a “white” view.

So, still the question is what to do.

Let’s continue to think about the other options. Gadfly the slow man.

Gadfly works toward taking a position on the Columbus monument issue

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

Gadfly is a slow man. Long-time followers can testify to that. Some of you have even complained. Dilatory Gadfly — how could he ever be an administrator?

But when faced with a question or a problem, Gadfly likes to take his time (if conditions permit). He likes to research. He likes to consider all perspectives. He likes to listen. When he comes to conclusion, he likes to be able to justify it. And even when he comes to conclusion, he is open to new argument, new data — open to change.

And as a card-carrying gadfly, he likes to give his followers the information and the time to form their own opinions.

Gadfly has now posted over a dozen times on the Columbus monument issue, inviting you to think along with him, inviting you to see that though it may seem a trivial issue, that this issue is related to the painful national reckoning with race we are once again undergoing as a result of the murder of George Floyd.

The Mayor’s Task Force on the Columbus monument issue has not reached conclusion, is still doing its work. Gadfly wishes he were privy to the discussion there. He hopes it is a good one.

But it’s time for Gadfly to move toward taking a position on the Columbus monument.

Think along with him, wouldya?

In his last post on this topic, Gadfly tried to frame the pros and cons of the request to remove the monument, and he floated several options for the Task Force recommendation to the Mayor (did he miss an option?):

  • deny the request, allow the monument to stand.
  • issue a formal statement agreeing with the negative view of Columbus, disavowing his actions relative the Native Americans, but letting the monument stand as is.
  • add additional “educational” information about Columbus and his legacy at the monument site.
  • add a monument celebrating Indigenous people to the monument site as balance of perspective on 1492.
  • replace the monument with a new one representing the complex nature of Columbus’s legacy.
  • replace the monument with a monument to an Italian of less ambiguous heroic stature.
  • move the monument to private property.
  • remove the monument.

Gadfly does not feel the Mayor can simply deny the request for removal, allowing the monument to stand as is:

  • to say that Columbus had “flaws” or was an “imperfect” man like many of our “heroes” is to fail to recognize the level of horrors in which he was personally involved (e.g., ordering arms cut off on Natives who didn’t bring in enough gold) or the scale of devastation that he initiated and unleashed (whole cultures wiped out/hundreds of thousands, millions dead).
  • to compare him to cultural icons like Jefferson, for instance, is to fail to recognize that Jefferson self-consciously agonized over the race question, unsuccessfully trying to find a solution, and that the tenders of his legacy — e.g., at Monticello — have evolved (unlike the the Italian American organization UNICO which sponsored the monument) to embrace the need to include slavery and even Jefferson’s long-time relation with concubine Sally Hemings in their representation of the man.
  • to say as the UNICO sponsors of the monument did in 1992 that “we can thank people like Columbus and the people who followed him for giving us the opportunity to voice our opinions” is patently absurd, for no dots can be drawn from Columbus to our First Amendment, and City Councilors in 1992 should have known that.
  • to say as the current UNICO organization does — to pick just one claim on its web site — that Columbus is “emblematic of the millions of immigrants and their pursuit of economic opportunity, religious freedom, and hope for a better life” is, if true, to falsely wrap Columbus in American Dream and Statue of Liberty rhetoric that has no relation to Columbus’s own motives, and, if true, would sanction personal greed and uncontrolled exploitation of those less powerful than you as motives for immigration.
  • to focus on Columbus’s skill as a navigator to the exclusion of or as a balance to the magnitude of the negativity surrounding Columbus is a herculean task of mental and moral compartmentalization that Gadfly is simply not capable of.
  • to say that removing or revising the monument would be an offense to our Italian Americans and divide our community is to fail to recognize that the presence of the monument might be seen as an offense to people of color in our community, for instance the nearly 30% of our community who are Latinx (“Porto Rico” was one of the islands quickly devastated by the Spanish).
  • to say that the monument should quietly remain or remain as is because it is in an innocuous location makes Gadfly wonder, then, if it has any value for the Italian American community.
  • to focus on the dangers and rigors of the Columbus voyage and to celebrate its successful, triumphant conclusion is to enshadow the “Middle Passage” where two to four million Africans died on their forced voyages to America.
  • to focus on Columbus as navigator is to forego the opportunity to learn from history, to learn lessons from the botched “first contact” situation that might be important in our desire to achieve racial harmony.

Gadfly could go on and on.

Bottom line: Gadfly does not feel that the Mayor can simply deny the request for removal of the Columbus monument, the Mayor can not allow the monument to remain as is.

But what to do?

Let’s think about that next. Gadfly the slow man.

Any response to Gadfly so far?

“Do something good . . . Is labeling someone a racist doing good?”

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

Bob Davenport is PA born and raised for 25 years. Now a retired railroad (but not the man at the throttle) Engineer, a CE graduate of Lehigh U,  a Catholic attending daily mass and praying for a better world without apparent success. An optimist.

ref: “Ok, what do you think will happen with the Columbus monument removal request”

Gadfly:

From merriam-webster.com:  “First Known Use of genocide 1944, in the meaning defined above”

According to this, Columbus could not have committed Genocide because it hadn’t been “invented” yet.  We should have historians rank every well known leader on an “evil” scale and see what Columbus rates; include every culture, not only the Eurocentric ones. What we need in this country are more things to argue about causing physical changes that will cause consternation and more disruption between affinity groups and individuals.

I’m sure the Italian American community did not extol Columbus because he “showed the indigenous people who was boss.”  Enjoy the bench and the setting and ignore the monument if you must and say a prayer in atonement for the sins you think Christopher committed.

I would suggest a plaque that alludes to possible monument misrepresentations or negative Columbus perceptions with the following address on the bottom: St. Labre Indian School; Ashland, Montana; 59004. Those concerned could send a donation there to augment what little I give to the school. I think this would lead to good feelings all around. If you are perfect and must have retribution, take a sledge to it.

Thanks for the extensive listing of relevant facts/ideas/options; I did not, however, see an appropriate goal with reasoning attached.  Re: 2017 Lehigh University Commencement address: “Do something good.” Is removing a monument good? Is labeling someone a racist (defined earlier than 1944 but much later than c. 1500) doing good?  Do good, support St. Labre.

Bob

Ok, what do you think will happen with the Columbus monument removal request?

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

Let’s recapitulate.

A group of at least a 120+ residents signed a letter addressed to the Mayor and City Council requesting the removal of the Christopher Columbus monument in the Rose Garden.

The monument was presented to the City in 1992 on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s successful trans-Atlantic voyage by the local chapter of UNICO, an Italian American service organization.

The Mayor appointed a committee (membership unknown to Gadfly) to consider the request. It is not clear that Council is formally involved. It is also not clear to Gadfly whether the committee is “advisory” or whether it has been entrusted with the decision about how to respond to the request.

Rationale for the removal of the Columbus statue includes:

  • Columbus did not discover the Americas: he accidentally happened upon them while searching for a westward route to Asia.
  • Columbus illegally claimed possession; the Americas were already inhabited by Indigenous populations with rich and ancient cultures.
  • The monument, therefore, literally espouses misinformation to the public; it does not tell the truth, the whole truth.
  • Though some Italian Americans revere Columbus, signers of Italian descent call on these members of the Italian American community to reconsider Columbus’s status as a “hero” and join in honoring Indigenous lives.
  • Columbus is no hero; his legacy has been shaped by a self-serving Eurocentric education system that has promoted false information, the erasure of Indigenous stories, and the devaluing of Indigenous life.
  • Primary sources document Columbus’s horrific crimes against the Indigenous peoples: he is responsible for the rape of countless women and children, the torture of entire communities, forcing human beings into slavery, killing countless others, wiping out whole cultures.
  • Columbus precipitated a genocide against the Indigenous population of the Americas.
  • Columbus literally has nothing to do with the United States; a better founding moment would be Jamestown 1607.
  • Bethlehem prides itself on going through a cultural renaissance, but we cannot make genuine progress in this area if we insist upon honoring as a hero a man who committed heinous acts of violence against Indigenous people.
  • Bethlehem celebrates diversity, and a monument to Columbus does not belong in such a community.
  • Columbus does not represent the values people in our community strive to live by.
  • Bethlehem needs to lead Pennsylvania and its sister cities in correcting an unjust spotlight.

The counter-argument: rationale for the original placement of the Columbus monument as well as not making a change now includes:

  • If it weren’t for Columbus, “we” wouldn’t exist.
  • Columbus and the people who followed him deserve thanks for giving us the opportunity to voice our opinions.
  • To remove the monument would be to give in to the excesses of the present-day “cancel culture.”
  • We’re all human, no one is perfect, everybody has faults.
  • Jefferson had slaves, Washington too — where would we stop canceling?
  • What if we learn something bad about Pulaski?
  • Modern critics of Columbus dwell too much on the negative.
  • History is written by the winners.
  • Columbus was a man of his time; it is unfair to judge him by our moral standards.
  • We can’t change the past.
  • Darwin’s survival of the fittest applies to cultures too; the Arawak/Tainos were not fit cultures to survive.
  • Columbus shouldn’t be blamed for what others did after him.
  • Most city residents informally polled both then and now have no problem with the monument.
  • The monument has existed without incident for almost 30 years; it has “tenure.”
  • Even granting the monument has the power to create problems, it is located in a spot where it is unlikely to do so.
  • The monument is little known, has virtually no visibility, the petitioners make a problem where there is none.
  • The monument is limited in scope, focusing just on Columbus as navigator, as sea man, qualities for which he can be justly praised.
  • Columbus is emblematic of the millions of immigrants, and their pursuit of economic opportunity, religious freedom, and hope for a better life.
  • Columbus has become symbolic of the Italian American experience, heritage, and contributions to the United States.
  • The desire for Italian Americans to honor their culture is part of our history too and shouldn’t be erased.
  • To remove or revise the monument now would be to offend Italian Americans.

Possible committee conclusions, the range of options:

  • deny the request, allow the monument to stand.
  • issue a formal statement agreeing with the negative view of Columbus, disavowing his actions relative the Native Americans, but letting the monument stand as is.
  • add additional “educational” information about Columbus and his legacy at the monument site.
  • add a monument celebrating Indigenous people to the monument site as balance of perspective on 1492.
  • replace the monument with a new one representing the complex nature of Columbus’s legacy.
  • replace the monument with a monument to an Italian of less ambiguous heroic stature.
  • move the monument to private property.
  • remove the monument.

Gadfly reminds you that what makes this Columbus monument issue significant is the connection it has to our desire to eliminate systemic racism in our country triggered by the murder of George Floyd.

The requestors are asking for the removal of a monument to a racist.

You know Gadfly loves to lay out a situation for you from multilevel perspectives and then ask you to role play the decision-maker.

He has now laid out a dozen posts encouraging you to think about the decision before the Mayor.

Gadfly understands that the Mayor’s committee meets for the second time today. We might learn their decision. but then again Gadfly would not be surprised if the committee does not finish its work today. This is a tricky issue.

What do you see as the outcome of the resident request for removal of the Columbus statue?

Is this Columbus monument a stain on our city?

Italian American organization stands by its 1992 view of Columbus

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

“The discoverer of the New World was responsible for the annihilation of the peaceful Arawak Indians.”
American Heritage

Gadfly knows a number of his followers will visit the Rose Garden Farmer’s Market this morning. He invites you to seek out the Columbus monument in the northeast quadrant near 8th Avenue and think about the discussion on removing it. (Gadfly has learned that the committee appointed by the Mayor meets for the second time on Monday.) UNICO is the organization that provided the monument in 1992.

“Afterwards I sent to a house which is in the area of the river to the west, and they brought back seven head of women, small and large and three children. I did this because the men would comport themselves better in Spain having women from their land than without them.”
Christopher Columbus
(the men were slaves, the “seven head” of women were not their wives)

Easton Mayor Panto on Columbus: teach the history; embrace, don’t hide the past

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

“San Salvador” from the triptych “Columbian Triad” (1992)
by Kiowa artist N. Scott Momaday

Mayor Sal Panto, on the controversy over Easton’s Columbus statue:

Panto says while people have a right to petition, the statue is part of history that can’t be re-written, and there’s a lot to be learned from it. “Humanity has come a long way since the early days, when unfortunately people like Christopher Columbus and other founders of our country didn’t have the same values we have today.” “I don’t think you just throw that part of history away,” Panto said. “I think you teach the history — both sides and all sides of Christopher Columbus, but you just don’t throw it away.” While he agreed Columbus’ methods were inhumane and racist by modern standards, he will oppose efforts to bring the statue down. “Where does this lead? Should we burn down the pyramids and the Colosseum because they were built with slaves? Do we change the name of Pennsylvania because William Penn displaced countless Native Americans?” he said. Instead, Panto offered his support for adding another statue along the riverfront. Back in 2006, the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania proposed building a $500,000 24-foot-tall fountain featuring a dream-catcher-like circular ring with water flowing through it. It would also feature statues of a Lenape woman instructing her grandson about his heritage. Panto said the cost made the proposal untenable but offered his support for a scaled-back version. “I think that’s the solution. Not hiding that past, but embracing it,” he said. (woven together from several Morning Call articles)

What do you think of Panto’s “solution”?

We’re thinking about all of the things tied into our national reckoning about race triggered by the murder of George Floyd.

Gadfly ever thinks of the soft words of Joyce Hinnefeld, Clerk of the Lehigh Valley Meeting (Quakers), each Sunday morning: “we worship together on land that was originally the land of the Lenape people.”

Remembrance is a form of reparation.

Representation is a form of reparation.

The “history” of the Columbus monument discussion

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

For all Gadfly knows, the committee that the Mayor formed to discuss the issue of removing the Columbus monument from the Rose Garden has met and concluded its business. Gadfly hopes he hears not only what conclusion is reached but also what the nature of the back-and-forth was. That will be so interesting. And, again, Gadfly says that this relatively little visible issue raised by a petition with a 120+ signatures on it relates to our much more visible conversation about systemic racism.

Our mole in City Hall has provided the minutes of the discussion about the monument at City Council in 1992. You know that Gadfly loves the quality of our resident commentary and lives to amplify it. Even commentary done almost 30 years ago. Once again Gadfly says (with a smile) that the residents Joris Rosse and Michael Laughton are more “with it” than the members of Council.

Gadfly particularly notes Mr. Rosse’s suggestion of a statue for the Indigenous (mentioned in these pages recently by Peter Crownfield) and his invocation of sustainability and Mr. Laughton’s revelation that the selling of Columbus as an American hero is a relatively recent phenomenon. Gadfly wishes we had audio/video, for both Rosse and Laughton exhibit deep connection for the “little guy” in a sharp tone deserving of a Gadfly tip o’ the hat.

The Councilors exhibit the common arguments for erecting such monuments and, these days, for maintaining them: it was another time, everybody has flaws, we’re not focusing on the bad stuff, you can’t change history. Gadfly smiles at the image of Mr. Calvo — long, long time Council member and a bit of a “character” — gathering opinions as he ambles through town.

You might find this following bit of history interesting.

from the minutes of the City Council meeting August 4, 1992:

Joris Rosse, Creek Road, Bethlehem, took the podium to address the installation of a Christopher Columbus statue in the Rose Garden. Advising that 1993 has been declared by the United Nations as the Year of the Indigenous People, Mr. Rosse expressed the hope that it would be an appropriate counterpoint to the celebration of Columbus Day and Columbus, in particular, as a hero and as a famous person to be held up as an example. Mr. Rosse felt that one has to be extremely careful about who is held up to society as a role model. Mr. Rosse commented that Mr. Columbus’ fame came not just from the fact that he was a discoverer but that his name is associated with extreme atrocities. Observing that history books did not really delve into the matter, Mr. Rosse felt that there is no way Christopher Columbus should be held up as an example of somebody to be emulated, Mr. Rosse said he finds it totally inappropriate to foster the idea of having a statue of Christopher Columbus on public property. He continued on to say that, if the Knights of Columbus would like to promote Christopher Columbus, they have their own properties on which to place the statue. Mr. Rosse commented that, if Council were to approve a statue of Christopher Columbus to be located in a public park, they would also be ready to approve an alternate statue that would honor the original people who were on this continent prior to Christopher Columbus. Mr. Rosse expressed the feeling that, by installing a statue, it would be especially ironic since it would be promoting a man who exemplifies colonialism, racism, slave trading, atrocities, at a time when one should be thinking about how to live in a sustainable way on the planet. Mr. Rosse concluded it is his earnest hope that Council will think carefully about the Resolution on the Agenda this evening.

Michael Laughton, 2614 Shakespeare Road, Bethlehem, stated that Columbus left a trail of theft, rape, murder, and was personally responsible for 2 million deaths. He noted that, for nearly 400 years after Columbus set foot in the Americas, no one celebrated his memory. Mr. Laughton related that, for the Chicago World Fair about 1892, the myth of Columbus was generated in order to create a figurehead behind which to celebrate the European expansion, and the character of Columbus was romanticized which myth, he commented, has been perpetuated to this day. Mr. Laughton noted that, as the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus approaches this October, many people across the country are trying to set the record straight regarding the historical truth of Columbus’ character and the things he perpetuated against the indigenous people of America. Mr. Laughton proposed that it is insensitive and ignorant to be proposing erecting a statue of Columbus at this time. Quoting James Joyce who said “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake”, Mr. Laughton said as we approach the new millennium, the human race is trying in many ways to awaken from the nightmares of its history. Mr. Laughton felt that, to erect a statue to one of the most barbaric predecessors, could only serve to prolong our “fevered sleep.”

Mr. Rosse said he cannot “pretend to be not disappointed in the kind of support you people have displayed for criminal behavior.” Mr. Rosse said he cannot believe that Council can go on record supporting criminal behavior in a public park. Mr. Rosse said there is “not a single comment, not a single little alibi, not a single little sign of compassion for the people who have been wronged in this over all of these years.”

Mr. Loupos, stating that he respects Mr. Rosse’s concern, explained he does not think the issue was about Christopher Columbus and his human faults but it was for the contributions that he made. Mr. Loupos noted that, as one goes through history, weaknesses can be found in many individuals. Exemplifying that Thomas Jefferson had slaves, Mr. Loupos noted one could pick Out individuals throughout history who made great contributions but who had faults. Mr. Loupos commented that “we would not be here today if the contribution was not made that Columbus found the new world. Mr. Loupos continued on to observe that Council members gave the matter a lot of thought but there was no need for further discussion, as the matter had been discussed at the Committee meeting.

Mr. Rosse stressed that Christopher Columbus was carried back to Spain in chains because of the violence he committed against indigenous people and to his own people. Mr. Rosse said it does not make sense “to make this man into a hero.”

Mr. Ehrsam explained that the matter of the Christopher Columbus statue was discussed in Committee, and the statue will represent the discovery aspect of Columbus’ work, and the navigation that was involved. Mr. Ehrsam further observed that it was a different time frame, and that part of history cannot be changed. Mr. Ehrsam commented that the City is not alone in honoring the accomplishments of the man.

Mr. Calvo, stating that he respects Mr. Rosse’s serious feelings, said that he and other members of Council talk to the citizens of Bethlehem about directions and issues facing the City. Mr. Calvo stressed that he talked to many Bethlehem citizens about the Columbus statue and 95% of them supported the idea of the statue. Mr. Calvo noted he communicates with many residents in grocery stores, other stores, walks through town, and so forth, which is where he gets much of his input from citizens of Bethlehem on the directions that the City should be taking.

Your turn to comment on the Columbus monument

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

Gadfly’s interest over the past several posts on this topic has been to try to make sure we have a more complete picture of the kind of man Columbus was than our historical hagiography has traditionally let on. If we’re going to talk about him, if we’re going to erect a monument to him, we need to know who he was. He was indeed an “imperfect man.” Seriously so.

But conversation about the monument is the kind of conversation, tough as it is, our community should have in this time of national reckoning about race. It can be the subject of that good conversation that builds community. And Gadfly hopes that is going on in the committee Mayor Donchez formed to respond to the concerns of a sizeable number of residents.

The Bethlehem Columbus monument is, Gadfly would surmise, little known and little visible. Gadfly bets many people are surprised that we have a Columbus monument.

The Easton Columbus monument that has been the subject of significant controversy recently is 9ft tall, stands on a pedestal perhaps equally high, is part of the Karl Stirner Arts Trail, and resides on high-traffic Riverside Dr.

The Bethlehem monument is relatively small and resides in a quiet pastoral spot sort of behind and off to the side of the first home replica along 8th Avenue in the northeast section of the Rose Garden. With its adjacent bench, the monument invites meditation rather than the awe that the Easton monument seems to demand (see April Gamiz’s great gallery of Easton photos here).

The Bethlehem monument would seem to focus on Columbus as navigator.

And here is its inscription: “Presented to the citizens of Bethlehem to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America.”

Our Columbus monument was approved by our Fine Arts Commission and received brief debate at City Council August 4, 1992, before being approved by a 6-0 vote. One resident said, “Columbus left a trail of theft, rape, and murder. You don’t praise criminal behavior.” A second said, “There’s no way that this man should be held up to our young people as someone who should be emulated,” adding the issue was what type of person was symbolized. Councilman Mike Loupos pointed to Thomas Jefferson as slave owner and focused on Columbus as explorer: “We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him discovering the New World.” Councilman Otto Ehrsham added, “we’re not alone in honoring the accomplishments of the man.”

The controversy about Columbus was much in the news at the time, so no one could be unaware of it. There was, in fact, an interesting major article in the Morning Call about how schools in the Lehigh Valley were dealing with the controversy over Columbus in their curricula. The Bethlehem-area Italian-Americans who created the monument handled the controversy this way: “This monument, [we’re] sure, is going to upset some people. We’re sorry if we’re upsetting anyone. But this is America, which is a beautiful Italian word by the way, and we can thank people like Columbus and the people who followed him for giving us the opportunity to voice our opinions.”

What do you think?

Gadfly knows some of his followers will be at the Rose Garden Farmers Market this morning — why not seek out the monument and give the controversy some thought.

Gadfly invites your responses.

Thinking about Columbus in Bethlehem (6)

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

What right had the first discoverers of America to land, and take possession
of a country, without asking the consent of its inhabitants, or
yielding them an adequate compensation for their territory?”
Washington Irving’s “gigantic question”

1492 Conquest of Paradise
dir. Ridley Scott, 1992 

see the first contact scene, min. 47:00 – 53:40

Unfortunately, the English language version of this 1992 Ridley Scott film “1492 Conquest of Paradise” is not available for free on YouTube. But, fortunately, there is little dialogue in the scene Gadfly would like you to watch. But here is that dialogue. Note especially Columbus enacting the ritual of possession and signing the Notary’s book in the Latin form of his name: “Christ bearer.”

Columbus: There!
Sailor: Land Ho!

Columbus: By the grace of God, in the name of the gracious majesties of Castilla and Aragon, by all the powers vested in me I claim this island and name it San Salvador.

————

The Gadfly seminar is almost over.

Let’s jump from John Vanderlyn in 1847 to premier filmmaker Ridley Scott’s epic 1992 film to celebrate the quincentennial of Columbus’s “discovery” of America.

In this film and in especially the short scene of the discovery moment (mins. 47-53:40), we see the hard, pervasive work of systemic racism in play again.

Scott focuses on the weary almost defeated Columbus, the man who has given all for his dream of a successful westward voyage. We pity him. Our heart aches for him. He has worn himself near death on his impossible quest. But land is close. The impossible achievement is near. As the sailor in the background methodically chants the ever lessening depth of water as the shore approaches, Columbus is aroused — can it finally be true? — till he triumphantly utters as if to himself, “There!” And on cue the fog parts and the New Edenic World magically appears as if by some miracle — “Land Ho!” The incredible dream is dream no more but glorious reality. Columbus, however, is subdued not ecstatic — his demeanor dramatically contrasted to that of his crew — humbled by his own achievement, and his first act on shore is to kneel as if to give thanks to God who is the real power in his success.

This is all Ridley Scott’s creation, mind you, there is nothing in the sources on which to base this characterization of Columbus. Scott is telling us how we should view Columbus as he slow motions our hero to shore. Columbus’s first act is an act of adoration and thanks. He’s without doubt a good guy. And Scott even characterizes Columbus with a sense of reluctance as he enacts his absurd role in the absurd ritual of possession (we almost think such an act is normal!), signifying in signing his name as “Christ bearer” that he is an instrument of a Divine Plan (soak in the Vangelis music that coats the whole process with supernatural tones!).

This is amazing stuff! But what is most amazing is that Scott consciously and candidly violates historical fact by showing the beach empty. The New World, this Eden, exists for our taking. Not one of the “innumerable” Taino that the real Columbus describes, some of whom were literally present at touchdown, are there. Why? It would seem obvious that Scott did not feel he could bring off a scene of such arrogant possession-taking by Columbus literally in front of Indigenous people for modern audiences. It would show racism at the very moment of our birth. And we couldn’t take that. So he falsifies. Creating a false image of an empty land that we might legitimately have a right to fill up. Imprinting our minds with a racially palatable untruth. Fake news.

So such at this moment is the definitive cultural image of the founding of our nation.

This is an example of how the cultural machinery to suppress people of color works in the construction of our history.

Thinking about Columbus in Bethlehem (5)

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

What right had the first discoverers of America to land, and take possession
of a country, without asking the consent of its inhabitants, or
yielding them an adequate compensation for their territory?”
Washington Irving’s “gigantic question”

John Vanderlyn, Landing of Columbus (1847), United States Capitol Rotunda,
Washington, D.C.

The setting of the painting is a narrow beach at the edge of a wooded bay or inlet. Columbus, newly landed from his flagship Santa Maria, looks upward as if in reverent gratitude for the safe conclusion of his long voyage. With his left hand he raises the royal banner of Aragon and Castile, claiming the land for his Spanish patrons, and with his right he points his sword at the earth. He stands bareheaded, with his feathered hat at his feet, in an expression of humility. (Artist of the Capitol)

———-

Gadfly believes that all people want to better themselves.

Gadfly believes that it is hard to keep people down.

Gadfly believes that it takes real systematic work to keep people down.

Gadfly believes that forces in the nation have done that hard work to keep people of color down.

Gadfly believes that people of color are surrounded by walls of systemic oppression.

Gadfly is happy to hear that on June 22, 2020, our president admitted that systemic racism exists.

Gadfly hopes that those white people who doubt the existence of systemic racism are paying attention.

———–

Let’s look to our Capitol Rotunda for an example of the cultural machinery, the hard work, that supports systemic racism.

You know the Rotunda, it’s where our dignitaries lie in state.

You saw it most recently when John Lewis lay in state there.

You also know it from your trips to Washington with your kids and grandkids.

You walk through the Rotunda at the beginning of your tour. Or you may have queued up there waiting for your tour to start.

The U.S. Capitol Rotunda is a holy place, a sacred place, a revered place. Gadfly calls it our “Holy of Holies.”

On the walls of the Rotunda are 8 large paintings of historical scenes. Large paintings. Huge paintings. 20 x 20. They dwarf you.

One of those paintings is John Vanderlyn’s Landing of Columbus (1847).

There is our official recognition of how we should feel about Columbus and how we should feel about the origin of our country.

There is our hero taking possession of the “New World” humbly, with gratitude, patriotic and religious symbols abounding.

But where are the owners of that land, people whom he described in the First Letter we just looked at as “innumerable”?

Imagine people of color in our Holy of Holies wondering about their place in our nation.

Every day the Vanderlyn painting quietly joins in the hard, pervasive work of keeping people of color down.

 

And don’t get Gadfly started on the Pocahontas painting there.

Thinking about Columbus in Bethlehem (4)

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

What right had the first discoverers of America to land, and take possession
of a country, without asking the consent of its inhabitants, or
yielding them an adequate compensation for their territory?”
Washington Irving’s “gigantic question”

Welcome back to the Gadfly seminar on Columbus.

Did y’do yer reading assignment yesterday?

Time to compare notes.

Columbus’s Diario, October 11, 1492

So Columbus kept a journal/diary/log book on his voyage from August 1492 to March 1493. He spent only about one day at the point where he made first contact with the “New World.” For most of his time on this first voyage he was on the move, mapping, charting, and, especially, looking for gold. In this entry on the October 12 touchdown, Gadfly’s eyes and mind go ineluctably to the part of Columbus’s concluding assessment of the Taino people he encountered where he says that “they should be good servants and intelligent, for I observed that they quickly took in what was said to them.” What are the Taino good for? To be good servants. To be — drum roll — slaves. Enslavement is what Columbus envisions from the get-go. Though the Taino are, according to Columbus’s own words, peaceful people full of “good will,” and thus one can envision the possibility of harmonious relations between peoples of totally different cultures, Columbus’s mind is focused on his domination of them. Their lack of clothes, their body paint, their purported lack of religion, their inability to “speak” (in Spanish) show that the Taino are uncivilized — Columbus is not one whit curious about their culture, about what a new culture might teach him — thus virtually demanding domination for their own good, and Columbus’s focus on their feeble armaments not only marks their feeble level of human advancement but promises ease of domination. The other part of Columbus’s concluding assessment of the Tainos is the ease with which they will be converted. Columbus is a Catholic, a member of the one true religion, who has a mandate from the Catholic Sovereigns of the Catholic nation of Spain to make Catholics, that is, to save souls, as part of his mission. The Tainos are heathen, damned, who will — by love or force — be redeemed from moral darkness, converted into new beings, erasing their own worthless character and culture in the process.

Do I have all that right, gang? Are you seeing what I’m seeing? If so, it’s not a pretty picture.

Columbus’s First Letter, April 1493

So what we have here is Columbus’s official final report on his first voyage to the “New World” addressed to his bosses, to his financial backers, the King and Queen of Spain (though, to be sure the implied audience of the Diario is also this same King and Queen). Like all such final project reports, Columbus is quick to highlight the successes of the journey –to prove that their money was well spent! — but also to lay the basis for funding for another trip. We see the age-old cycle of business reports. This letter is remarkable for several things. First, for the revelation that Columbus took possession of every island for Spain by reading a proclamation at a public ceremony right in front of the Taino owners — “no one making any resistance,” of course, because they had absolutely no idea what was going on. Incredible. What balls! That act of formal and legal possession had to be certified by a Notary who was part of the crew and ultimately filed in the Home Office in Spain should some other country contest ownership. Second, Columbus immediately embarks on erasing Taino culture by giving every place a new name, a Spanish name. Columbus knows the Taino call the site where he touched down first Guanahani, but he renames it San Salvador. Insidious. The power of naming is a primal power. The Spanish have it. Columbus layers his map over the Taino map and renders their presence invisible. What balls! The third remarkable thing in this letter is a rhapsodic Columbus swooning over the natural beauty of the part of the world he “discovered.” What he describes is an Eden (which many vacationers among Gadfly followers can still to this day attest), and Columbus temporarily falls under a magical spell that rests in stark contrast to his role as profiteer providing “as many heathen slaves as their majesties may choose to demand” and “as much gold as they have need of.” Ultimately, this Columbus is the serpent in the garden, ruining all.

The letter was successful. Columbus’s funding continued. As did the oppression of the Taino and the raping of Eden.

The Columbus picture album

As you can imagine, the news of “discovery” of a New World was paradigm shattering, and interest in knowing more was high in the Old World. The printing press was still a relatively new resource, and Columbus’s letters were rather quickly published in book form and distributed widely — and sometimes with images like the ones here. Columbus, of course, would have had nothing to do with the creation and choice of these images to accompany his text, but they are a gauge for us of what the culture saw in Columbus’s work and what it anticipated in the future from it. “In composite,” Gadfly asked you yesterday, “what story do such images tell?” The first image depicts the Indigenous people as “fearful and timid” before the advance of the Spanish symbolized in the powerful ship, that marvel of modern technology and high civilization, in the foreground that acts as a kind of portal for the first contact scene displayed in the rear. And after that there is no sign in the images of the Indigenous people at all. None. The culture for which Columbus is the long extended arm turns the inhabitants of the New World into ciphers, writing over their maps and literally removing them from the landscape.

So, to bring us back to this cultural moment of racial reckoning in Bethlehem and the reason for this excursion into history, is Columbus the kind of man we should be honoring and heroicizing? Is his mission one with which we are proud to be aligned?

Terrible destruction and genocidal waves resulted from events Columbus set in motion.

Gadfly thinks again of the soft, thoughtful reminder of Joyce Hinnefeld, Clerk of the Lehigh Valley Meeting (Quakers), each Sunday morning: “we worship together on land that was originally the land of the Lenape people.”

Thinking about Columbus in Bethlehem (3)

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

What right had the first discoverers of America to land, and take possession
of a country, without asking the consent of its inhabitants, or
yielding them an adequate compensation for their territory?”
Washington Irving’s “gigantic question”

Let’s step away from Columbus himself.

Let’s think about how his “discovery” was promoted in Europe.

Columbus wrote 4 letters, one after each of his voyages to the “New World.”

When those letters were published and distributed shortly after their completion, they were accompanied by images.

What do these images tell us about the way Columbus’s New World achievement — the nature and value of “discovery” — was perceived and anticipated in the Old World.

People wanted to know what it all meant. And pictures are sometimes a better vehicle for conveying that meaning.

Let’s look at a New World gallery. First images of the New World that accompanied Columbus’s words for fervently curious Europeans.

What are the people like?

 

What will the big picture look like?

 

Show us a town

In composite, what story do such images tell?

Thinking about Columbus in Bethlehem (2)

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

What right had the first discoverers of America to land, and take possession
of a country, without asking the consent of its inhabitants, or
yielding them an adequate compensation for their territory?”
Washington Irving’s “gigantic question”

We are thinking about Columbus’s actions and character, whether we should have a monument to him in Bethlehem.

In the last post Gadfly asked you to look at his thoughts as they were written freshly on the very first day of touchdown in the “New World.” When he was on the front lines.

Gadfly gives you a bit longer assignment now. Here is a section of his official report — called his “First Letter” — to the King and Queen of Spain, his financial backers.

This report is written in reflection back in Europe 4 months or so after leaving the “New World.”

Gadfly asks you to do the same thing as before. Listen to the Columbus voice. What do you hear? Form some estimate of the man and his mission.

Gather you thoughts, and add them to your previous ones.

We’ll compare notes later.

Columbus’s First Letter, April 1493

On the thirty-third day after leaving Cadiz I came into the Indian Sea, where I discovered many islands inhabited by numerous people. I took possession of all of them for our most fortunate King by making public proclamation and unfurling his standard, no one making any resistance. To the first of them I have given the name of our blessed Saviour, whose aid I have reached this and all the rest; but the Indians call it Guanahani. To each of the others also I gave a new name, ordering one to be called Sancta Maria de Concepcion, another Fernandina, another Isabella, another Juana; and so with all the rest.. . . .

I came again to a certain harbor, which I had remarked. From there I sent two of our men into the country to learn whether there was any king or cities in that land. They journeyed for three days, and found innumerable people and habitations, but small and having no fixed government; on which account they returned.. . . .

The island called Juana, as well as the others in its neighborhood, is exceedingly fertile. It has numerous harbors on all sides, very safe and wide, above comparison with any I have ever seen. Through it flow many very broad and health-giving rivers; and there are in it numerous very lofty mountains. All these island are very beautiful, and of quite different shapes; easy to be traversed, and full of the greatest variety of trees reaching to the stars. I think these never lose their leaves, and I saw them looking as green and lovely as they are wont to be in the month of May in Spain. Some of them were in leaf, and some in fruit; each flourishing in the condition its nature required. The nightingale was singing and various other little birds, when I was rambling among them in the month of November. There are also in the island called Juana seven or eight kinds of palms, which as readily surpass ours in height and beauty as do all the other trees, herbs, and fruits. There are also wonderful pinewoods, fields, and extensive meadows; birds of various kinds, and honey; and all the different metals, except iron. . . .

In the island, which I have said before was called Hispana, there are very lofty and beautiful mountains, great farms, groves and fields, most fertile both for cultivation and for pasturage, and well adapted for constructing buildings. The convenience of the harbors in this island, and the excellence of the rivers, in volume and salubrity, surpass human belief, unless one should see them. In it the trees, pasture-lands and fruits differ much from those of Juana. Besides, this Hispana abounds in various kinds of species, gold and metals. The inhabitants of both sexes of this and of all the other island I have seen, or of which I have any knowledge, always go as naked as they came into the world, except that some of the women cover their private parts with leaves or branches, or a veil of cotton, which they prepare themselves for this purpose. They are all, as I said before, unprovided with any sort of iron, and they are destitute of arms, which are entirely unknown to them, and for which they are not adapted; not on account of any bodily deformity, for they are well made, but because they are timid and full of terror. They carry, however, canes dried in the sun in place of weapons, upon whose roots they fix a wooded shaft, dried and sharpened to a point. But they never dare to make use of these; for it has often happened, when I have sent two or three of my men to some of their villages to speak with the inhabitants, that a crowd of Indians has sallied forth; but when they saw our men approaching, they speedily took to flight, parents abandoning children, and children their parents. This happened not because any loss or injury had been inflicted upon any of them. On the contrary I gave whatever I had, cloth and many other things, to whomsoever I approached, or with whom I could get speech, without any return being made to me; but they are by nature fearful and timid. But when they see that they are safe, and all fear is banished, they are very guileless and honest, and very liberal of all they have. No one refuses the asker anything that he possesses; on the contrary they themselves invite us to ask for it. They manifest the greatest affection towards all of us, exchanging valuable things for trifles, content with the very least thing or nothing at all. But I forbade giving them a very trifling thing and of no value, such as bits of plates, dishes, or glass; also nails and straps; although it seemed to them, if they could get such, that they had acquired the most beautiful jewels in the world. For it chanced that a sailor received for a single strap as much weight of gold as three sold solidi; and so others for other things of less price, especially for new blancas, and for some gold coins, for which they gave whatever the seller asked; for instance, an ounce and a half or two ounces of gold, or thirty or forty pounds of cotton, with which they were already familiar. So too for pieces of hoops, jugs, jars, and pots they bartered cotton and gold like beasts. This I forbade, because it was plainly unjust; and I gave them many beautiful and pleasing things, which I had brought with me, for no return whatever, in order to win their affection, and that they might become Christians and inclined to love our King and Queen and Princes and all the people of Spain; and that they might be eager to search for and gather and give to us what they abound in and we greatly need. . . .

As soon as I had some into this sea, I took by force some Indians from the first island, in order that they might learn from us, and at the same time tell us what they knew about affairs in these regions. This succeeded admirably; for in a short time we understood them and they us both by gesture and signs and words; and they were of great service to us. . . .

In all these islands there is no difference in the appearance of the inhabitants, and none in their customs and language, so that all understand one another. This is a circumstance most favorable for what I believe our most serene King especially desires, that is, their conversion to the holy faith of Christ; for which, indeed, so far as I could understand, they are very ready and prone. . . .

This island is to be coveted, and not to be despised when acquired. As I have already taken possession of all the others, as I have said, for our most invincible King, and the role over them is entirely committed to the said King, so in this one I have taken special possession of a certain large town, in a most convenient spot, well suited for all profit and commerce, to which I have given the name of the Nativity of our Lord; and there I ordered a fort of be built forthwith, which ought to be finished now. In it I left as many men as seemed necessary, with all kinds of arms, and provisions sufficient for more than a year; also a caravel and men to build others, skilled not only in trade but in others. I secured for them the good will and remarkable friendship of the King of the island; for these people are very affectionate and kind; so much so that the aforesaid King took a pride in my being called his brother. Although they should change their minds, and wish to harm those who have remained in the fort, they cannot; because they are without arms, go naked and are too timid; so that, in truth, those who hold the aforesaid fort can lay waste the whole of that island, without any danger to themselves, provided they do not violate the rules and instructions I have given them. . . .

Finally, to sum up in a few words the chief results and advantages of our departure and speedy return, I make this promise to our most invincible Sovereigns, that, if I am supported by some little assistance from them, I will give them as much gold as they have need of, and in addition spices, cotton and mastic, which is found only in Chios, and as much aloes-wood, and as many heathen slaves as their majesties may choose to demand; besides these, rhubarb and other kinds of drugs, which I think the men I left in the fort before alluded to, have already discovered, or will do so. . . .

let Christ rejoice upon Earth as he rejoices in Heaven, as he foresees that so many souls of so many people heretofore lost are to be saved; and let us be glad not only for the exaltation of our faith, but also for the increase of temporal prosperity, in which not only Spain but all Christendom is about to share. . . .

Gadfly bets you never knew we have these documents after all these years!

Thinking about Columbus in Bethlehem (1)

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

“What right had the first discoverers of America to land, and take possession
of a country, without asking the consent of its inhabitants, or
yielding them an adequate compensation for their territory?”
Washington Irving’s “gigantic question”

Gadfly misses the classroom.

He really does.

Such fun, such serious fun.

Exercises like this.

We have granted Columbus the title of Founder of our country. He is our hero. We celebrate him with a holiday.

Bethlehem has a monument in his honor.

Is Columbus worthy of all these accolades?

A large group of our residents don’t think so and want the Bethlehem monument removed.

How can we decide such an important question?

Well, you know what Gadfly always says, don’t you?

Go to the primary sources.

Here from his journal/diary are Columbus’s exact words on the day of, on the moment of “discovery.”

What do you see?

What can you tell about the man?

Columbus’s Diario, October 11, 1492

“I, that we might form great friendship, for I knew that they were a people who could be more easily freed and converted to our holy faith by love than by force, gave to some of them red caps, and glass beads to put round their necks, and many other things of little value, which gave them great pleasure, and made them so much our friends that it was a marvel to see. They afterwards came to the ship’s boats where we were, swimming and bringing us parrots, cotton threads in skeins, darts, and many other things; and we exchanged them for other things that we gave them, such as glass beads and small bells. In fine, they took all, and gave what they had with good will. It appeared to me to be a race of people very poor in everything. They go as naked as when their mothers bore them, and so do the women, although I did not see more than one young girl. All I saw were youths, none more than thirty years of age. They are very well made, with very handsome bodies, and very good countenances. Their hair is short and coarse, almost like the hairs of a horse’s tail. They wear the hairs brought down to the eyebrows, except a few locks behind, which they wear long and never cut. They paint themselves black, and they are the color of the Canarians, neither black nor white. Some paint themselves white, others red, and others of what color they find. Some paint their faces, others the whole body, some only round the eyes, others only on the nose. They neither carry nor know anything of arms, for I showed them swords, and they took them by the blade and cut themselves through ignorance. They have no iron, their darts being wands without iron, some of them having a fish’s tooth at the end, and others being pointed in various ways. They are all of fair stature and size, with good faces, and well made. I saw some with marks of wounds on their bodies, and I made signs to ask what it was, and they gave me to understand that people from other adjacent islands came with the intention of seizing them, and that they defended themselves. I believed, and still believe, that they come here from the mainland to take them prisoners. They should be good servants and intelligent, for I observed that they quickly took in what was said to them, and I believe that they would easily be made Christians, as it appeared to me that they had no religion, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses that they may learn to speak. I saw no beast of any kind except parrots, on this island.”

Gather your thoughts, and Gadfly will compare notes with you later.

Columbus statue misrepresents history, over 80 sign on

Latest in a series of posts on the Columbus monument

published in the Bethlehem Press, September 2, 2020

Dear Editor:

This letter written in solidarity with protests across the country calls for removal of the Christopher Columbus monument located in the Bethlehem Rose Garden.

The monument was installed in 1992 by the now-defunct Bethlehem chapter of Unico, an Italian-American service organization. It was commissioned, as stated on the inscription, “to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America.”

Columbus did not discover the Americas: he accidentally happened upon them while searching for a westward route to Asia. They were already inhabited by Indigenous populations with rich and ancient cultures.

The monument, therefore, literally espouses misinformation to the public.

As the commission indicates, we know that, for some Italian Americans, Christopher Columbus is a revered figure and a symbol of belonging. We, some of us of Italian descent ourselves, call on these members of the Italian American community to reconsider Columbus’ status as a “hero” and join us in honoring Indigenous lives.

This monument glorifies Columbus as a hero when he is nothing of the sort. Columbus’ legacy has been shaped by a Eurocentric education system that has promoted false information, the erasure of Indigenous stories, and the devaluing of Indigenous life. As primary sources from the period document, Columbus’ crimes against the Indigenous peoples were horrific in every way: He raped countless women and children, tortured entire communities, forced human beings into slavery, and killed countless others. His actions began a genocide against the Indigenous population of the Americas.

A monument to this person does not belong in our community.

Bethlehem prides itself on going through a cultural renaissance, but we cannot make genuine progress in this area if we insist upon honoring as a hero a man who committed heinous acts of violence against Indigenous people. A city such as Bethlehem that celebrates diversity needs to lead Pennsylvania and its sister cities in correcting an unjust spotlight.

Considering the aforementioned issues, we, the undersigned, call on the City of Bethlehem to remove the statue during its renovations of the Rose Garden, slated to commence at the end of this month (August 2020). Upon receipt to the City, this letter will also be made available to the wider public to sign in support.

Elena Fitzpatrick Sifford, Laura Kemmerer, Jaclyn Dorney, Taylor Alexander, Stephanie McCain, Justin Sifford-Angotti, Chelsea Cianciotto-Grimmett, Gregory Grimmett, Gina Salazar, Mary Anne Madeira, Adam Hoff, Lauren Barbarito Churchill, Laura Oswald, Timothy Churchill, Patricia Miller, Errol G. Wilson, Emanuela Kucik, Emily Orzech, Justin Alexander, Tamara Nisic, Katie Stafford, Monica Najar, Holona Ochs, Emily Pope-Obdela, Jennifer Swann, Allison Mickel, Jon Irons, Margo Hobbs, Randall Anthony Smith, Kassaandra Hartford, Nobuko Yamasaki, Suzanne M. Edwards, Hyacinth Kucik, Maura Finklestein, Drew Swedberg, Dana Francisco Miranda, Caitlin Charos, Christy Chong, Dale Grandfield, Connie Wolfe, Andrea Aveiga, Jacqueline D. Antonovich, Brian D. Shaw, Christa Irwin, Robin Riley-Casey, Joanna Chatzidmitrious, Matthew Caltabiano, Leticia Robles-Moreno, Matthew Bush,  Anastasia Caltabiano, Michelle Ramirez, Susan Ott, Debbie Graul, Deena Stoudt, Elizabeth Firsten, Courtney Landau, Daniela Colaianni-Poe, Christine Leigh Melnyczenko Westrich, Brian Tervo, Andrea N. Roloson, Alison Farrell, Jessica Kucsanz, Amy Corbin, Sarah E, Baer, Kristina Morris,  Jenna Katsaros, Jillian Krill, Kathy Bulman, Richard Warmkessel, Maggie Urban-Waala, Alyssa Ascher, Kara Tervo, Arthur Hutcheson, Jennie E. Hoose, Purvi Parikh, Fadeth Gomez, Penny Hutcheson, Katelyn Haydt, Maia Knowles, Gabe Knowles, Nate Knowles, Cady Darago, George Varghose, Jeremy Alden Teissere, Emily Drake, Rachel Hutcheson, Kate Wilgruber

see also Allison Mickel, “Your View by Lehigh professor: Columbus is still killing people. Take him down.” Morning Call, July 10, 2020.

The Columbus controversy comes to Bethlehem

logo First post in a series on the Columbus monument logo

Columbus 1

Columbus monument, Rose Garden, Union Blvd., across from Nitschmann
Morning Call photo

from K. C. Lopez, “Amid Renovations, Neighbors Call for Columbus Statue to be Removed.” Lehigh Valley Press PBS 39, September 2, 2020.

A near half million dollar renovation to Bethlehem’s Rose Garden is underway.

The city is completely revamping the park; improving its trails, adding a picnic area, lawn activity space and more flowers.

But a battle is brewing over one of the park’s memorials. A monument dedicated to Christopher Columbus has this community divided over whether the ship has sailed on celebrating the explorer.

“My daughter asked me about what it was all about,” says Assistant Professor of Art History at Muhlenberg College, Elena FitzPatrick Sifford, “I found myself having to explain to her many of the problematic things about the monument and the person that it is celebrating.”

While some view the navigator’s voyage to the Americas as a pathway to acceptance for Italian-Americans, others argue Columbus’s legacy is plagued by genocide, slavery and the mistreatment of native americans. More than 120 concerned residents signed a letter to the mayor’s office and city council calling for the monument dedicated to the explorer to be removed during planned renovations.

“We felt this was an opportune moment,” Sifford tells PBS39, “There will already be construction going on there. I would love to see a monument put in its place that honors the indigenous people who lived here who are from the Lenape nation. Should the Italian-American community want to retain this monument, thinking about the many other Italian-Americans who have contributed to the country in many ways as well as Italian-Americans within the Lehigh Valley who have done incredible things for the community.”

As a result, Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez is convening a council comprising some calling for its removal, members of the Italian-American community, representatives from the city’s fine arts council and Mount Airy neighborhood association who will decide the statue’s fate.

“What is the direction that we want our community to go in? What future do we want for Bethlehem?” Sifford asks, “With it being such a diverse city and one that is really going through this cultural revitalization and this is really a moment to show everyone and our other sister cities in Pennsylvania, where we stand and what future we envision for our city and for our children.”

No word yet on when we can expect a decision from the group but as the nation grapples with racial injustice, the fate of monuments dedicated to Columbus, civil war era commanders and other Confederate leaders hangs in the balance.