Should October 12 be celebrated in memory of Christopher Columbus? For hundreds of years, most Americans have thought so. In fact, "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue" is one historical fact most school-aged children have memorized about this well-known explorer. Recently, however, circumstances have changed. Certain groups are now trying to eliminate Columbus' contribution to America's history by saying he was really a 15th century racist slave trader.

So, what is the truth about Columbus? Did he fail to live up to the meaning of his first name as a "Christ-bearer," or was he only out to find gold at the expense of human life? Should we continue to have a federal holiday that honors a man attributed to discovering America when he didn't even step foot in the United States? After reading facts about his voyages below found in historical documents and the LIFEPAC 8th Grade History and Geography Unit 1 Worktext homeschool curriculum from Alpha Omega Publications, decide for yourself if Columbus earned the title "Admiral of the Ocean Sea" and a place in America's history books today.

Christopher Columbus
* Proved travel across the Atlantic Ocean was safe and the world was round.
* Founded the first permanent European settlement in the Western Hemisphere.
* Laid the foundation for future trans-Atlantic navigation by other explorers, such as America's namesake, Amerigo Vespucci. These routes are still being used by sailors today.
* Introduced the principle of compass variation (magnetic v. true north) with the rotation of the pole star.
* Was the first European to recognize the importance of the prevailing Westerlies, winds that blow steadily from west to east.
* Introduced Old World farming techniques that involved crop rotation, agricultural tools, and domestic livestock breeding to the hunter-gatherer tribes that were native to America.
* Never owned any slaves or brought any to the Western Hemisphere from Africa.  However, when he returned on his second voyage and found all 40 of his crew, who had been left behind, killed by unfriendly Taino Indians, he fought and captured several thousand Indians to be sent back to Spain and sold as slaves.
* Did not consider the Indians inferior. His journals from his first voyage describe the Indians as handsomely shaped with well-made faces and large, beautiful eyes. Plus, Columbus praised their generosity, innocence, and intelligence, saying they could "readily become Christians."
* Was deeply religious. In addition to finding gold for the king and queen of Spain, Columbus believed one of his missions was to bring Christianity to the New World.
* Poorly managed the colonists in America and also inhumanely enslaved the Indians to look for gold. For his failures, he was brought back to Spain in chains and ended up losing control of the land he discovered. Later, he was freed by King Ferdinand, but the king refused to restore Columbus' previous authority.
* Made four voyages and established a permanent contact between Europe and the Americas.
* Died believing he had found a new route to the Far East, but he seriously underestimated the size of the Earth and never found Asia.

So, was Columbus a success or failure? Was he a conqueror or an explorer? Many may continue to question and debate whether Columbus' actions and achievements are worthy of the holiday we celebrate. However, even with the negatives associated with this famous explorer from Genoa, Italy, the fact remains that he bravely set sail in three small ships — the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria — to cross a huge ocean and follow his dream. Exemplifying a pioneering spirit that inspired future explorations of the New World, Columbus paved the way for Europe's future discovery and colonization of America.