Goodbye, Columbus

July 22nd, 2009

The faculty has decided to repu- diate the body of work of the man described by Samuel Eliot Morison as perhaps the greatest navigator in history by refusing to celebrate his memory ("Goodbye, Columbus," Elms, May/June). Morison, America's foremost naval historian, wrote in his Pulitzer Prize–winning biography, Christopher Columbus: Admiral of the Ocean Sea, that, while it had been well-established since Ptolemy that the earth was round, before Columbus "no other sailor had the persistence, the knowledge, and the sheer guts to sail thousands of miles into the unknown ocean until he found land."

Of the voyage of 1492, Morison wrote: "This was the most spectacular and most far-reaching geographical discovery in recorded human history." To be consistent and avoid accusations of hypocrisy, the faculty should now repudiate other great men whose accomplishments have similarly been defiled by their involvement with slavery. The faculty should vote to refuse to honor the memory and the attainments of George Washington on Presidents' Day on the grounds that he was a slaveholder. And I am sure the faculty will further demonstrate its brilliant scholarship by refusing to honor the memory and the achievements of the author of the Declaration of Independence and the principal author of the Constitution, both of whom also owned slaves. I await the faculty's next bold stroke of mature and thoughtfully considered scholarship.

Dante G. Ionata '59


The decision of the Brown faculty to change the name of Columbus Day to Fall Weekend misses the point. The issue is not Christopher Columbus. While some may feel that the day is poorly named, it is, nevertheless, like St. Patrick's Day, Israel Independence Day, von Steuben Day, Greek Independence Day, Martin Luther King Day, Puerto Rican Day, and Kosciuszko Day, a day of ceremony, parades, and ethnic pride for a large segment of American society. If the Brown faculty really felt compelled to make a change, rather than run the risk of antagonizing thousands of Italian American alumni, including the mayor of Providence, perhaps it could have renamed the day for Garibaldi. Brown, perhaps unfairly, tends to get tagged as a hotbed of political correctness, but this is truly political correctness gone berserk!

Robert M. Wigod '54
New York City


Now that Columbus Day Weekend has become Fall Weekend, we should rename Brown University as All Seasons University. John Brown and Christopher Columbus were notable men of their times, but most importantly they were men of their times. Renaming our University might please a diverse array of "hyphenated Americans"—African Americans of all ages, older Italian Americans, and Native Americans, to name a few.

Alan Balboni '73 PhD
Las Vegas


I applaud the University's decision to rename their October weekend Fall Weekend. Clearly, the moniker Columbus Day isn't going away from popular culture anytime soon, but it's good to see that new efforts have rightly been made to correct the false notion that Christopher Columbus was some sort of hero.

Providence's Mayor David Cicilline '83 may feel that the move suffers from political correctness, but he would probably be singing a different tune were he of Native American descent. Then again, Cicilline is most likely not aware of the little-known fact that historians aren't even sure that Columbus was Italian to begin with! He may have been Italian, but it is also possible that he was Catalan, Portuguese, or Spanish. Scientists are currently testing the DNA of people with variants of the name Columbus who live in these areas to try to determine Columbus's true nationality.

Maia Weinstock '99
Brooklyn, N.Y.


It would be easy to dismiss both the faculty's rejection of Columbus Day and the angry reaction of some to that rejection as street theater, but for me, the interesting part of the story was that "Brown students and staff will continue to get the day off." Did no one say, "Enough with the holidays—let's get back to work?"

David Dumas '64
East Greenwich, R.I.


Both Lawrence Goodman and Pro-fessor of Chemistry Gerald Diebold should know better than to attribute Brown University's name to John Brown rather than to his nephew Nicholas.

Edward Mahaney-Walter '05
McLean, Va.

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July/August 2009