Misconceptions in history: Columbus Day

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  • By Airman 1st Class Andrea Posey
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1937 to celebrate Christopher Columbus' landing in the New World Oct. 12, 1492.

In some places, special church services, parades and large events are held for this holiday. Most celebrations are concentrated around the Italian-American community.

However, Columbus Day is not actually a public holiday in California, Nevada and Hawaii. For example, Columbus Day is known as Landing Day or Discoverer's Day in Hawaii.

Also, South Dakota celebrates Native Americans' Day, while Indigenous People's Day is celebrated in Berkeley, Calif., according to timeanddate.com.

According to the History Channel, Columbus Day has become controversial because of the many misconceptions which have developed over time.

Misconception 1: Columbus set out to discover a New World.
False. In reality, Columbus came across the Americas by complete accident while he was looking for a direct water route from Europe to Asia and India for trade.

Misconception 2: Columbus set out to prove the earth was round.

Although this was once taught in schools, this is also false.

Ancient Greeks had already done so as early as the sixth century B.C. Greek mathematician Pythagoras concluded the world was round and Aristotle confirmed this two centuries later with astronomical observations, according to the Nuffield Foundation.

And, according to the History Channel, most educated people knew the planet was round by 1492.

Misconception 3: Columbus only traveled to the New World once.

Actually, he traveled four times. These journeys took him to the Caribbean Islands, South America and Central America.

Misconception 4: Columbus was a saint.

Although once considered for sainthood, Columbus was no saint.

This History Channel said he was arrested in August 1500 and brought back to Spain in chains after colonist complained about his mismanagement.

His exploration of the New World was brutal and tyrannical, according to the History Channel. Native Americans were forced into slavery and mass murdered during his conquest. Even his own colonists were executed at the gallows if they became rebels.

Although Columbus was stripped of his governorship, he was granted his freedom and allowed his fourth and final voyage to the Americas. Afterward, he returned to Spain and died in 1506.

"Columbus has a mixed legacy," said historians from the History Channel. "He is remembered as a daring and path-breaking explorer who transformed the New World, yet his actions also unleashed changes that would eventually devastate the native populations he and his fellow explorers encountered."