By Kevin Cooper / Original to ScheerPost
When I was in grade school, back in the 1960s, and I was uneducated, I was sent to school to be educated on the truth in every level of life. This included the discovery of this land, and its founding as the United States.
I believed, or thought, that I was not sent to grade school to be lied to by the very teachers who were supposed to educate me with the truth.
One of the lies that I learned way back then, as did all the other children who went to school at the same time as I did, as well as all the other generations of children who went to grade school before my generation, and after, is that Christopher Columbus discovered America.
We did not learn the truth that before he and his crew of homicidal maniacs set sail for the continent of Asia, the country of India, that Columbus had participated in one of the greatest crimes in the history of the world—that he took part in the trans Atlantic slave trade in his home country of Portugal. Nor did we know of his writings about the first people he met when he accidentally landed in what we now call the Americas. He called the human beings he saw Indians, because he mistakenly believed that he had landed in the country of India.
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He wrote, according to the late historian Howard Zinn, the following upon seeing the Indigenous people he first encountered:
“They…brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for glass beads and hawk’s bells. They willingly traded everything they owned…They were well built, with good bodies and handsome features…They do not bear arms, and they do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…They would make fine servants…with 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
That is exactly what Columbus, and his men did, and the rest is a tortured history. But we did not learn this truth in school from our teachers. And if certain politicians and certain states have their way, this and other truths will not be taught by any teacher to any student.
So, we cannot forget, nor can we ignore what happened in the past and act like it never happened, because in truth, it did really happen. Overtime, these truths and others have helped to educate the masses about what exactly Christopher Columbus was, and what his real legacy is. And all this happened to those Indigenous people at that time in history because they—Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerge from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them—brought them food, water, gifts—and for all these acts of humanity they had genocide committed upon them. So, we ask, who are the human people, and who are the inhuman—who’s really the good and who’s really the evil—tell the truth.
Respect and support Indigenous People’s Day.
Written for Indigenous People’s Day for his Amnesty International chapter, AIUSA Group 30, San Francisco
In 1985, Kevin Cooper was convicted of a 1983 quadruple murder and sentenced to death in a trial in which evidence that might have exonerated him was withheld or destroyed from the defense. Cooper has become active in writing from prison to assert his innocence, protest racism in the American criminal justice system, and oppose the death penalty. His case was scrutinized by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof on Jan. 23, 2021, May 17, 2018 and June 17, 2017, and by 48 Hours, with Erin Moriarty, most recently on March 21, 2020 in “The Troubling Case Against Keven Cooper.”