Denver, CO -- Oct. 7 - 10, 2005

Memory of Columbus challenged by chalkings written around campus

story image 1 Chalkings like this, found near the Dennison Building, have appeared across campus since Sunday. (KELLY LIN/Daily)

Adhiraj Dutt and Ryan Vlcko, (Michigan) Daily Staff Reporters
October 09, 2003

"Columbus = genocide," "Got genocide? Murderers don't deserve holidays" and "Columbus = murderer" are some of the chalkings that now appear on pavement around campus.

Earlier this week, members of the Native American Student Association and La Voz Latina chalked central campus with these messages in protest of Christopher Columbus Day, which is Oct. 13.

NASA Co-Chair Nickole Fox said that most people don't know or pay attention to the darker side of Columbus' historic arrival to the Americas.

"It's an eye catcher so people will look into the issue a little bit more. A lot of people grow up with the idea that Columbus is a hero, but he also did a lot of bad things and we just wanted to point that out," said Fox, an LSA senior. "He killed a lot of Native Americans."

But many students believe the chalkings improperly question Columbus Day.

Speaking out against the chalkings, Bobby Raham, co-chair of the Young Americans for Freedom, believes they will lead to further criticism of American history.

"Frankly it's ridiculous. If they're going to say this, they'll probably start saying Washington and Jefferson were racists," said Raham, an LSA sophomore. "Columbus' contributions changed the course of history. ... Everybody makes mistakes."

"But I'm not saying they shouldn't be allowed to do the chalkings. They are entitled to their opinion," he added.

History Prof. Nancy Hunt said it is debatable whether Columbus himself committed genocide or any of murders.

"It's good that it makes people think about history and allows people to question why Columbus is a hero or whether he is a hero. Holidays tend to create public debates over what historical interpretations are made," Hunt said.

Law School student Michelle d'Amico said she appreciates the right to free speech but the way the groups are speaking out is pointless and misguided.

"It's cowardly. If you make a bold statement like that, you need to back it up. These people should hold some sort of a forum to discuss the issue," she said. "I would like to see the research in a comprehensive fashion. They are trying to change people's minds and in order to do this, they need to present facts. No one will change their mind just because of some chalkings on the Diag."

On the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison declared the first official Columbus Day. The Knights of Columbus, an international Roman Catholic society, urged state legislatures to legally make Oct. 12 a holiday. In 1907, Colorado became the first state to make Columbus Day a legal holiday. New York did the same in 1909 and celebrated the day on Oct. 12 with a parade with Italian-American societies, Italian ship crews and the Knights of Columbus. The second Monday of October has been a federal holiday since 1971.

Since the late 19th century, Italian-Americans have held a close connection with Columbus Day.

"As an Italian, I know Italian-Americans get excited about America being named after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian, and Columbus, also an Italian," d'Amico said. "The holiday is not celebrating everything this man did. We are celebrating him discovering this country."