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Retire Columbus Day

Shedding light on America's earliest explorers


History classes in schools throughout this country still continue to teach children that Columbus was the first to discover America and that in 1492 he sailed the ocean blue. They are taught he proved that the earth was round not flat and he is to be lauded as a hero.

Much of that has now been proven false; the Native Americans Columbus met upon arriving were a complex organized society with their own economy. They cohabited with black people who could have arguably been on the land just as long as them.

In elementary school, I watched videos and read history books that explained that the first black people came to America as slaves shaping their experience with shackles and bondage.

Columbus, through no fault of his own, was co-opted by an eager historical force to stifle the clear and present fact that the land that we now call America was discovered by others long before the famous Italian touched down in the Bahamas.

Historical, archaeological and even botanical evidence shows that Africans contacted the New World in pre Columbian times. The first evidence of black presence in America was given to Columbus by the Indians as they explained they had long been trading with black people. The metal work they traded was given to Columbus who sent them to be studied and found they were of an area in West Africa.

Author Ivan Van Sertima provides us with a picture of America's first real melting pot, where Indians and West Africans lived on the lands and shared cultures. So much of Indian culture was shaped by the experiences of the West Africans and their influence and vice versa.

On Columbus Day, we Americans should celebrate the fact that many of the first cultures who were the first here were the very people who were brutalized years later as the land was colonized and they were removed from their lands. Despite the near genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans, the culture of hate still continues today.

So as another Columbus Day has passed, I tell young people I see that the first blacks in America were not slaves, these blacks were traders and priests who were honored and venerated by the Indians, who even built statues in their honors. The Indians and Africans were at the root of what we value of our American melting pot.

Who is anyone to be the authority on who first touched land that is millions of years old? Historians early on sought to paint the prettiest picture of our past ignoring the blatant truth that even Columbus spoke of. That our country was founded on the Van Sertima eloquently put, "It would be an irony, indeed, to find that Americans 'discovered' Europe many centuries before Europeans 'discovered' America. But the whole notion of any race (European, African or American) discovering a full-blown civilization is absurd. They presume some innate superiority in the 'discoverer' and something inferior and barbaric in the people 'discovered.'"

Columbus Day means many different things to many people and for Americans it should represent a need for better understanding about our land's history. By flippantly passing off historical truths about the beginning of civilization in America, we give a free pass to ignorance of the truth. By highlighting Ivan Van Sertima's message in They Came Before Columbus, I am not saying black people "discovered America." I am simply imploring that they -- along with Native Americans -- made contact with this land many times before our history books are willing to teach.

Decker Ngongang, a native of Charlotte, is a financial professional and committed citizen.

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