Stop Turning A Blind Eye
Pandemic Diary Entry # 48
June 24, 2020.
During Black Lives Matter protests more than confederate statues are falling. It is time white America learned more history, and not the glossy, convenient one taught in school.
I am a native Californian who matriculated through the public school system. Every public school in California dedicates an entire portion of their fourth grade history curriculum to the myth of Father Junipero Serra and his building of Alta California.
I have mentioned before how we live in a country of white-washed history, and the fourth grade curriculum is no different.
Father Serra was not a great man, he was a cruel, savage, religious zealot. He worked as a field agent for the Inquisition and hunted down witches while he lived in Mexico. Serra was just one of many Franciscans who held the belief that anyone practicing a religion other than Catholicism was to be converted or removed. According to UC Riverside historian Steven Hackel’s book Junípero Serra: California’s Founding Father, Serra was “a calculating and unrelenting interrogator of those he thought had committed crimes against the Church.”
In the mid to late 1700s Serra traveled up what would become the state of California to help found a chain of 21 missions. Here he encountered a peaceful indigenous population that he viewed as backward and in need of discipline. When he had finished his settlements, the indigenous population of California had declined by almost one-third.
It is difficult to obtain accurate population figures from this period. It is estimated that prior to the arrival of Europeans in California the indiginous population ranged from 133,000 to 705,000 with some recent scholars concluding that these estimates are low.
Following the arrival of Europeans in California, disease and violence reduced the population to as low as 25,000.
The missions were essentially labor camps. In 1946 journalist and historian Carey McWilliams, in her book Southern California: An Island on Land wrote that the missions could be better conceived as “a series of picturesque charnel houses”. The death rates were staggering with more than 50% of children never making it to their fifth birthday. Adult deaths amounted to between ten and twenty percent of the population. Native American women raped by the Mission fathers would be beaten, placed in irons and had their heads shaved if they were caught attempting to abort the child. They were then forced to stand at the church alter every Sunday holding a wooden child in her arms.
Despite their conversion to Christianity, upon their death they were not even buried in a Christian manner. The deceased Native Americans were stacked up and buried in pits on the Mission grounds.
History books tell us that Christopher Columbus was a ground-breaking explorer. Critics say his actions led to the transatlantic slave trade as well as the mass killing and exploitation of indigenous people.
Two days after landing in what he thought was India, Columbus wrote in his journal “with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them.’’ On his second voyage, in December 1494, Columbus landed on the island of Hispaniola and proceeded to round up 1,500 native Tainos. 550 of “the best males and females’’ were loaded onto ships bound for the slave markets of Seville, Spain.
When the Spaniards needed to replace the Taino to perform labor on the islands they imported African slaves to the island. By 1510, the trade was important to the Caribbean economy and the slave trade was off and running.
Spanish historian Consuelo Varela has studied a rare document written by a religious knight and member of the Order of Calatrava, who had been asked by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand to investigate allegations of Columbus’s brutality. The document shows that Columbus was a tyrant. One man caught stealing corn had his nose and ears cut off, was placed in shackles and was then auctioned off as a slave. A woman who dared to suggest that Columbus was of lowly birth was punished by his brother Bartolomé, who had also travelled to the Caribbean. She was stripped naked and paraded around the colony on the back of a mule. “Bartolomé ordered that her tongue be cut out,” “Christopher congratulated him for defending the family.” “Even those who loved him had to admit the atrocities that had taken place,”
US President William Henry Harrison, in fighting the severe and often violent discrimination of Italians in the 19th century, established Columbus Day as a general holiday, it became a national holiday in 1937 after intense lobbying by the fraternal organization, Knights of Columbus. The Italians deserve a better representative to celebrate their contribution to the American way of life.
Representations of these two men need to join the on-going discussion of how we have ignored the history, and lack of inclusion of our Black and Native American populations.
In November 2018 Los Angeles removed a bronze statue of Christopher Columbus from Grand Park. At the time Council member Mitch O’Farrell said: “It’s a natural next step of eliminating the false narrative that Columbus was a benign discoverer who helped make this country what it is,’ ‘His statue and his image is really representative of someone who committed atrocities and helped initiate the greatest genocide ever recorded in human history, so the fact that his statue is coming down is the next step in the natural progression.”
Other Questionable Figures
In Sacramento, a sculpture of John Sutter, sponsored by the United Swiss Lodge of California and created by the late sculptor and my friend, Spero Anargyros, was removed from its place in front of Sutter Hospital.
A History Channel article called the German-born Swiss immigrant, John Sutter a “shrewd businessman” and a key player in the genocide of Native Americans, many of whom he reportedly sexually assaulted.
According to History Net, contemporary observers at Sutter’s Fort claimed that he resorted to “kidnapping, food privation, and slavery” to force Indians to work for him.
Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” after the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812, almost two decades before the Civil War began. Key was not a confederate, but he did own slaves and opposed the abolition of slavery. Key not only profited from slaves, but he believed that Africans in America, were “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.”
His feeling about slaves can be found in the third verse of the Star Spangled Banner, not something many people have ever read, let alone sung.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution!
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The phrase “hireling and slave” refers to black slaves hired to fight on the side of the British during the War of 1812.
Alan Taylor, author of “American Blacks in the War of 1812”, feels that the stanza was written to glorify the Americans’ defeat over the Corps of Colonial Marines, one of two units of black slaves recruited between 1808 and 1816 to fight for the British on the promise they would be given their freedom.
An interesting foot note to that war, after the signing of a peace treaty between the US and Britain the US demanded the return of “property” which was, in actuality 6000 people. The British refused and most of those people settled in Canada with a handful going to Trinidad, where their descendants are still known as “Merikins.”
Key was truly a man with two sides. He donated his legal services to some African-Americans who were fighting for their freedom under a 1783 law that prohibited slaveholders from other states from bringing their human chattel into Maryland. Key won several of those cases. But at other times, he represented slave owners trying to recapture their “possessions.”
Yes, Ulysses S Grant led the Union armies in the defeat of the slave-owning Confederacy, however he also owned slaves.
While Grant’s father was an abolitionist, Grant himself married Julia Dent whose family owned slaves. He personally directed the work of these slaves at White Haven, the family plantation, in Missouri.
According to White House history on March 29, 1859, U.S. Grant manumitted “my negro man William, sometimes called William Jones, of Mulatto complexion, aged about thirty-five years…being the same slave purchased by me of Frederick Dent.” Many historians have pointed out Grant’s choice to manumit William Jones rather than sell him in a time of financial hardship for his family. Ronald C. White wrote that “Grant could have received at least $1,000 for this slave if he’d tried to sell him… at this point he could have surely used the money.”
During the war Julia Dent Grant traveled with a woman named Jules who was still a slave. Her actions prompted public condemnation. The Grant family did not free Jules upon the issuance of the emancipation proclamation. According to the White House Historical Association, Jules ran away.
Grant never mentioned being a slave owner in his autobiography so the fact that he owned human beings remained a secret for over 50 years. It is thought that Captain Sam Grant, by Lloyd Lewis, which was not published until 1950, included the first mention of President Grant’s ownership of William Jones.
Removing statues is always controversial and passions run high on both sides of the argument. Is the camp calling for the removal of controversial statues seeking to correct an historical injustice or are they trying to erase history? And are those who object to removing memorials defending the indefensible or attempting to conserve a history through distasteful symbols?
After the Irish obtained their independence from Britain, there was a question of what to do with Dublin’s imperial monuments . P.S O’Hegarty, a nationalist writer and historian, outlined his belief in a letter to the Evening Herald in December 1931 that they should stay where they were.
Nelson, and Queen Victoria, and other British statues are ancient monuments, trophies left behind by a civilisation which has lost the eight centuries’ battle. The hand that touches one of them is the hand of an ignoramus and a vandal.
Santiago Ramón y Cajal points out in Advice for a young Investigator why statues of controversial figures can be painful to see. “Heroes and scholars represent the opposite extremes… The scholar struggles for the benefit of all humanity, sometimes to reduce physical effort, sometimes to reduce pain, and sometimes to postpone death, or at least render it more bearable. In contrast, the patriot sacrifices a rather substantial part of humanity for the sake of his own prestige. His statue is always erected on a pedestal of ruins and corpses…”
We are seeing symbols of racists and genocidal individuals being taken down across the country. That is a start, but more importantly we need to take a hard look at revamping our educational system to teach history and do so in a way that in all inclusive and is not taught through the lenses of rose colored glasses.
My Horoscope for today: You’re in transition, so don’t fret. This may be the right time to put secret ambitions into motion.
San Francisco weather: 62 degrees and sunny
NYSE DOW opened at: 25992
NYSE DOW one year ago: 26727
Foreign word of the day: fern
OED word of the day: delenda, With plural agreement. Words, sentences, etc., which are to be deleted from a text; (also) such deletions in the form of a list printed with a text.
Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 103
Reading: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Studying Nicolló Machiavelli’s The Prince and his biography Nicolló’s Smile
My Black and White Picture of the Day:
Something Silly From the Internet:
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