An Overview of Black History

Compiled & Edited by Phillip True, Jr.

12. Columbus' Portfolio

Chancellor Williams writes that "Columbus has been hailed as the discoverer of America; but Columbus himself never succumbed to any such delusion."

The majority of us have gone from grade school to grad school believing that Christopher Columbus was a mighty man, one of strength and valor. He has come down to us through history as a hero, memorialized for discovering America. Yet as we near the close of the twentieth century, Columbus and all that has been ascribed to him has been called into question, even his physical characteristics.

Columbus scholars here in America have taken it upon themselves to visually depict him as one of English or Scandinavian descent, with bright blue eyes. Columbus was born Christoforo Columbo (in English, Christopher Dove) in or near Genoa on the Italian coast. No one person is sure of the date of his birth, however, 1451 is generally accepted. Nothing at all is known about his childhood. All that appears in children's' books about Columbus as a young boy is pure speculation at best. When he came into history he was said to have had two brothers, Bartolome and Ciacomo.

According to Hans Koning, in his book Columbus: His Enterprise, he wrote that most of what has been written about Columbus' early days at sea is based on people thinking in retrospect about his days of fame, and how they should have been. "The discoverer of a great continent must have been a dashing brilliant seaman. Columbus is given keen blue eyes, tall stature, and reddish blond hair. He was gradually changed into an honorary Anglo-Saxon. Descriptions of naval battles describe him as a young ship's captain. There is nothing known of Columbus' appearance, and the various existing portraits are fantasies created after his death. In addition, not much is known of his early career other than the fact that he went on several voyages in the Mediterranean, and in between, worked for his father in Genoa.

Perpetuation of this continued mythology is damaging not only to Europeans, but insulting to the Native American and African people. Africans were not only knowledgeable of these lands, but had been trading with the Native Americans long before Africans long before Columbus had come to this part of the world. Dr. John Henrik Clarke in his book Notes for an African World Revolution: Africans at the Crossroads states that:

Columbus says in his diary: As man and boy, I sailed up and down the Guinea Coast for twenty-three years." … What was he doing in West Africa for twenty-three years? Hanging out with African sailors who had already gone to the New World. And I can prove that too. They told him about the currents in the ocean that would take him there. They also told him something that he didn't seem to believe. If you pick up a current in the ocean that will take you to that part of the world, you have to wait six months for the current to reverse itself to bring you back. And he came back in less than six months, and that's why the ships were wrecked off the coast of Portugal.

On Columbus's return from his third voyage to the new land, he reported "the presence of Negroes there." As interesting as this is, even more is the account he gives after the first voyage itself of having received from the "Indians," as it pleased him to call the natives, a present of certain "guanines." Guanine was the native African name at that time for pebbles or slobs of gold, the way in which it was imported to Europe from the Guinea Coast. Columbus was delighted to hear about this new find. He was not interested in the discovery of land, that would only be considered as extra. Columbus was mainly interested in the acquisition of gold, ivory, spices, and any other precious item that he could resell at home for a profit. This was the beginning of what would later become known as European capitalism.

The natives of Hispaniola further informed the same Christopher Columbus when he arrived in the West Indies that they had been able to obtain gold from black men across the sea from the south and the southeast. Africans had been in the so-called New World long before Columbus was even a twinkle in his father's imagination.

As this nation and many other nations festively celebrate Columbus' discovery, we should be diligent to keep in mind the death, damnation, and destruction that he introduced, killing 90% of the indigenous people of the land. Additionally, this same Columbus introduced the practice of slavery into the Americas, initially by enslaving the Indians and eventually the White European and later the African.

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