Rethinking Columbus banned in Arizona: Katz essays included

by William Loren Katz on January 31, 2012

The following is a response to news that Rethinking Columbus, a textbook aimed at critically engaging the legacy of Christopher Columbus in American and Indigenous history, is no longer approved for use in Tuscon public schools. The banning is a result of new laws that have shut down Mexican [American] Studies programs in the area.

I was informed that on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day the book “Rethinking Columbus,” designed to make pupils and teachers think about how this county was founded and developed by its many peoples, was banned from the classrooms of Tucson, Arizona. The book, which has been in print for twenty years and has sold 300,000 copies, carries essays donated by noted Native American, Mexican American, African American, Hispanic American and white authors and educators. This includes two essays of mine titled “Black Indians and Resistance” from Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage.

First, let me say that I am delighted to appear in such distinguished company, and hope this book banning leads to a victory for civil liberties, restoration of educational sanity and a deeper understanding our multicultural past. Meanwhile, I accept the Arizona censorship as a badge of honor.

For those who do not have access to Rethinking Columbus, let me add that my first article discussed how in the time of Columbus and shortly after African and Indian “men and women enslaved in the New World began a pattern of resistance “the spirit of rebellion spread like wildfire,” and documented specific examples.

The second article tells the story of the Republic of Palmares in northeastern Brazil that was ruled by Genga-Zumba [a combined Angolan African word for “great” and a Tupi Indian word for “ruler”]. This peaceful, long-lasting farming community had three huge walls, began around the time of Jamestown in 1607, grew to 11,000 Indigenous people and Africans, held off European assaults for generations, and “had shone as the brightest star of freedom in Latin America.”

The piece concluded: “The meaning of Palmares and its legendary rulers was that dark people—Africans and Indians—in the Western Hemisphere meant to be free. This idea terrified Europeans more than the powerful armies and defenses of Palmares.” I adapted my two articles from Black Indians in order to inform teachers and pupils that the fight for independence, democracy and equality began long before 1776, and our first freedom fighters were people of color rarely recognized as such by textbooks or the school curriculum.

Obviously this simple truth is still terrifying to some sadly uninformed white educators in Arizona. I would be willing to come and show them my research and documentation. — Bill

For more information read Suzan Shown Harjo’s article, Rethinking Columbus: Book-Banning in Tuscon on the Indians Country Today website.

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