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Teacher's Columbus Day shirt sparks controversy

Posted at 11:41 PM, Oct 14, 2019

Christopher Columbus changed the world by connecting Europe to the Americas. He is also accused of committing brutal acts against indigenous people. So on Columbus Day, one teacher wore a t-shirt that read “Columbus was a murderer.”

“I wanted to wear this shirt to spark discussion,” said Emma Howland-Bolton.

She says she wanted to have a conversation with her fifth-grade students at Clipper Multicultural Magnet Honors Academy in the Detroit Public Schools Community District, about how there are different perspectives. But instead, a school administrator asked her to take off the shirt. She soon feared she would be disciplined.

“I was informed that my shirt was my opinion and I countered with it is a fact,” Howland-Bolton said.

So is it a fact? 7 Action News sat down with History Professor Pamela Sayre from Henry Ford Community College. She says it really does depend on whose narrative you are looking at. Christopher Columbus was a man of his time and murder in his country often was only a crime if you killed a man with a soul that could be saved by Christianity.

People of other faiths were dehumanized.

“There was serious debate over time about what beings had souls," Sayre said. "For a while there was a question, did women have souls."

The fact is that the men he oversaw did commit many murders from the perspectives of Indigenous People who lost their lives.

“There is a history of brutalism, of aggression against native people and lesser charges really – stealing crops, raping women,” Sayre said.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District says the shirt was first noticed because sweatshirts in general are not part of a business casual dress code. Then the statement on the sweatshirt was discussed because it was not submitted as any lesson plan to be pre-approved. Ultimately, the teacher faced no discipline.

This article was originally written by Kim Russell for WXYZ.