The events of CharlottesvilleLee was a general during the American Civil War. He fought for the Confederacy, which wanted to maintain slavery, against the Union, which wanted to abolish it. There are many statues of Robert E. Lee in the United States. One was in Charlottesville, Virginia. A local 16-year-old high school student, Zyahna Bryant, started a petition on Change.org to take it down. Bryant, who is African-American, argued that the statue is a symbol of slavery, and it made her feel unwelcome in her own city. Charlottesville city council agreed with the young Bryant. Before the council could remove Lee’s statue, groups of neo-Nazis and racists organised a rally to defend it. They marched in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12, and they attacked counter-protesters, who had come to oppose them peacefully. They injured several of them and killed one woman.
Columbus DayThe events of Charlottesville caused national indignation. The violence and racial hate were condemned. Many statues of Lee and other controversial figures were vandalised. Some were removed by local governments. The Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, set up a commission to find out if any of the city’s statues were potential ‘symbols of hate’. Some of these are statues of Christopher Columbus. But why Columbus? On Columbus Day he is celebrated as a symbol of courage, initiative and determination, the great sailor who ‘discovered’ America. The critics of Columbus claim that this is only half the story. They point out that the Genoese sailor behaved horribly towards Native Americans. Columbus himself wrote about the Natives: “they do not bear arms, and do not know them […] With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” This, historians confirm, is what happened: Columbus enslaved and killed the peaceful Natives he met. He was the first in a long line of greedy and bloody European conquerors.
Indigenous Peoples’ DayThe debate over Columbus is not new in the rest of the continent. Many Latin American nations, where a large percentage of the population is Native American, consider Columbus a foreign invader. Columbus Day has been replaced with other celebrations such as Indigenous Resistance Day (Venezuela), Cultural Diversity Day (Argentina), Decolonisation Day (Bolivia) and Day of Interculturalism (Costa Rica). This trend is spreading to the United States. Many cities are replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day to honour Native North Americans, the victims of European colonisation. This year, Charlottsville and Los Angeles (the second largest US city), joined the movement. Promoters of this new holiday claim that statues are meant to represent the values in which we believe. They say that if there are conquerors, colonialists, and slave owners on pedestals, it’s time to remove them. Perhaps, as the American comedian Lee Camp suggests, we should move them all to ‘the museum of values most of us have evolved beyond’.
Useful links 1) Here’s Zyahna Bryant’s petition on Change.org: https://www.change.org/p/charlottesville-city-council-change-the-name-of-lee-park-and-remove-the-statue-in-charlottesville-va 2) Read about Christopher Columbus: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/primaryhistory/famouspeople/christopher_columbus/ 3) Learn about Native Americans and their culture: http://www.historyforkids.net/native-americans.html 4) Read more about Columbus Day: http://www.history.com/topics/exploration/columbus-day 5) Read more about Indigenous Peoples’ Day: http://time.com/3495071/indigenous-peoples-day/
COMPREHENSION 1) Read the article and complete the sentences with the right alternative. 1. On Columbus Day— (Carlo Dellonte) (Image credits: Wikipedia and Turinboy, flickr )
- all Americans celebrate Christopher Columbus.
- statues of Christopher Columbus are vandalised.
- some Americans celebrate Christopher Columbus.
- not the discoverer or America.
- where African-Americans were slaves.
- that wanted to abolish slavery.
- where African-Americans were free people.
- less racist and more welcoming.
- moved to a different city.
- the city council.
- racist groups of white people.
- almost died.
- defended their statues of Lee and other controversial figures.
- questioned whether their statues should be removed.
- Vandalised Lee’s statues.
- had Native American servants.
- favoured violence and slavery.
- did not discover America.
- European colonisation.
- indigenous resistance.
- statues should inspire positive values.
- statues should represent history.
- all statues belong in museums.