America Before America: Reconsidering the Legacy of Christopher Columbus

Peter Mancall

“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” That rhyme has long been how American students were introduced to Christopher Columbus in elementary school. Students are taught that Columbus is the one who discovered the Americas, sailing across the Atlantic in his three ships: The Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria. The Italian explorer is even celebrated every October during a federal holiday named after him.
But the man credited for discovering the “New World” is considered a contentious figure in US history for his treatment of the indigenous communities he encountered and for his role in the violent colonization at their expense.
Statues of Christopher Columbus are being dismounted across the country. So what did Columbus really do and should he being labeled as a “tyrant” rather than the hero we were always taught to believe?