Archive | Historical Perspective by Jerry Kasten

Government designed to check, balance power

Posted on 02 February 2017 by admin

Worried about the election results? Have no fear, “checks and balances” are still here!
As the Republican presidential primary campaign rocked along, the candidate least expected to win among an original field of 17, Donald Trump, won. He made what many considered to be “outlandish” promises if he were elected; as we know, he succeeded in both the Republican primary and in the general electoral balloting, becoming our 45th president.
Now many Americans are concerned, some even frightened, by many of the future actions the new president might take which could adversely affect civil liberties.
Given the fact that the revamped American Nazi Party, David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan and Richard Spencer’s “Alt-Right” (supremacist) group all supported Trump’s election, many Jews and other minorities are especially concerned with what future developments might occur.
Do you remember what you were probably taught at least as early as the ninth grade, the concept of “checks and balances”?
That is, under the U.S. Constitution, each of the three branches has a primary purpose: Congress makes laws, Executive enforces laws and Judicial interprets laws.
In addition, each branch has “checks” on the powers of the other two branches. For example, the president can issue executive orders, but Congress can refuse to pay for their cost.
Given the fact that the majority of members of both houses of Congress and the president of the United States are members of the same political party (Republican), you might think that the president has carte blanche to do whatever he wishes. … Not so!
Actions deemed “unconstitutional” could be brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. Also remember that not all congressional Republicans may agree with the president on each and every issue. They may withhold funding, and often there are disagreements within each party on various issues.
Other protections against possible presidential or congressional abuse include the people’s right of protest (freedom of speech) and news sources’ right to inform (freedom of the press).
The next four years may be some of the most interesting in our lifetime. Whatever may happen, be sure to keep those U.S. Constitutional checks and balances in your thoughts.
Let’s not forget that as good citizens, we have a responsibility not only to stay informed, but also to communicate with our representatives by writing or calling our congressmen, our senators and the president to express our views on the issues which most concern us.
Remember that We the People are the most important part of our “checks and balances” system.

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Why DFW Jews need to fight anti-Semitism in Montana — and everywhere else, too

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Whenever and wherever anti-Semitism appears, we must do what we can to help stop it.
Case in point: Whitefish, Montana, a lovely small town of 6,500. In the summer, a gateway city to Glacier National Park. In the winter it transforms to a busy ski resort town.
Among Whitefish’s citizens, there are some half-dozen or more Jewish families, including one rabbi. Historically, there have not been any acts of religious bias.
“People have always gotten along,” said an unidentified member of local anti-discrimination group Love Lives Here.
That is, until recently. One of its part-time residents is Richard Spencer, leader of the Alt-Right (neo-Nazi) Movement which supported President-elect Donald Trump. The Anti-Defamation League has identified him as a leader in white supremacist circles.
Spencer’s mother, a longtime Whitefish resident, purchased and developed a property in the downtown area.
Now that her son has returned to Whitefish as head of the National Policy Institute, local residents fear that Spencer would use part of his mother’s property to “grow” his organization, attracting other white supremacists and neo-Nazis to Whitefish.
In 2014, residents of Whitefish, through its City Council, spoke out against discrimination, forming Love Lives Here, and held rallies against Richard Spencer and his organization.
In reacting to local citizens’ moves to pressure his mother to sell her downtown property, Spencer recently turned to a national neo-Nazi group for support and assistance.
The Nazis have reacted by publishing the names and addresses of Whitefish’s Jewish families and they promised to “march 200 strong with weapons through the streets of Whitefish on Martin Luther King Day — Jan. 16.”
Local and state police as well as the FBI are involved in ensuring the protection of people and property in Whitefish.
Hopefully, if the Nazis should show up, they will have no audience other than law enforcement. They want publicity so they really wish as many protestors as possible. Such confrontations would mean news photos and stories. The lack of an audience would make these neo-Nazis appear foolish, which is what they deserve.
The best way, in my opinion, that we can support the good citizens of Whitefish in their struggle against the anti-Semites is to let them know they are not alone. Even if this march does not take place, new maneuvers will probably be planned.
The following is a copy of my note to Mayor John Muhlfeld, city of Whitefish, Montana:
“Many thanks to you and those in your community who have stood tall and strong in the support of those residents threatened by extremist bigots. Please feel reassured that you are not alone. — Sincerely, Jerry Kasten”
By the time TJP readers see this column, we will know what happened in Whitefish on Martin Luther King Day 2017. Whatever occurs, we should not dismiss the Whitefish scenario as unimportant.
Jewish people need to be alert to threats against Jews anywhere in the world.

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Jewish science fiction: Can you believe it?

Posted on 05 January 2017 by admin

Growing up as a boy in The Bronx, I ate fatty food, was overweight and had little desire for sports. As a result, I spent too much time reading and listening to the radio and less time running around.
I loved to listen to radio serial shows such as Superman, The Green Hornet, The Shadow
(“… who could cloud men’s minds so that they could not see him”), and any other fantasy shows that were available.
Reading science fiction magazines was a natural “step-up” for me from comic books. The front covers displaying scantily-clad women in their tight-fitting space suits shooting through space or fending off space monsters were a real attention-getter, but I was already “hooked” on those weird interplanetary stories.
It was interesting that I rarely found any stories in those magazines that had any connection to those sexy covers.
Another boy in my apartment building had a huge collection of Astounding Science Fiction magazines which I greatly envied. Little did I know that many of the authors of those sci-fi stories were Jewish, even if their names didn’t at all sound Jewish.
Anti-Semitism was rampant in the 1930s and ’40s, and caused many Jewish writers to submit their work under non-Jewish sounding names in order to get their stories published.
Some examples of those “Jewish Aliases” included Horace Gold, who wrote under the pen names of Clyde Crane Campbell, Dudley Dell, Leigh Keith and Richard Storey. Horace’s brother Floyd was a book reviewer writing under the name Floyd Gale. William Tenn was really Philip Klass, and so on and so on.
By the time World War II was over, attitudes toward Jews improved. There’s no greater equalizer than soldiers fighting side by side against a common enemy.
Isaac Asimov was an exception. He refused to write under an assumed name. He was a successful biochemist; his brilliant mind and talents took him in many directions, one of which was the writing of science fiction. His success became a source of admiration and hope for other Jewish writers trying to make their way in the field of science fiction.
Those were exciting times in science fiction: Items such as helicopters, spaceships, cellphone-like devices, electric ray guns, lasers, virtual worlds, multiple music tracks, space stations, and space travel were all part of the fantasy world of science fiction in those early years.
The vivid imagination of sci-fi writers provided the scientific community with the seeds of potential reality. Examples among many include the Star Trek communicator which became today’s cellphone; Tom Swift’s electric rifle gave physicist Jack Cover the idea for his invention, which is commonly known today as the Taser.
If you’re interested in learning who these Jewish science fiction pioneer writers were and reading their exciting Jewish-themed fantasy stories, check out Wandering Stars, 1974 and More Wandering Stars, 1981, both edited by Jack Dann.
Here’s a closing thought after National Science Fiction Day, Jan. 2. If you think that Star Wars is the ultimate future, think again. Scientists estimate that we currently possess only four percent of space knowledge. You Jewish space scientists and science fiction writers have your work cut out for you.
“May the Force be with you!”

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Recalling ‘Jewish Bird Lady’ of The Bronx

Posted on 22 December 2016 by admin

Rubbing his palms together and with a big smile on his face, the local TV weather forecaster seems all excited about the first winter freeze expected to hit the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
This combination of wintry weather report and the birds at my patio feeder remind me of an unusual experience I had as a youth, growing up in the University Heights area of The Bronx during the ’40s.
The meet-up place in our neighborhood for getting a game together or planning activities was the southeast corner of 181st Street and Grand Avenue. A street light pole and a postal department mail storage box next to it made it an ideal location to sit on or lean against.
As I was waiting there by myself one cold wintry day, my friend Paul came out of his apartment building nearby and asked, “What’s up?”
“Nuthin’,” I said, to which he replied, “Do you want to meet the Jewish Bird Lady?” Jokingly, I asked, “Does she talk or chirp?
“Both!” he answered.
As we walked up the stairs to the second floor, I remembered having seen a thin, elderly white- haired lady feeding pigeons and other birds outside at various times and wondered if she was ”The Bird Lady.”
Paul’s apartment was on the left, but he rang the bell on the right. Introducing me to that same bird-feeding lady I had seen, we entered the apartment. She greeted us in Yiddish, which really wasn’t unusual in my neighborhood.
There was a living room with two bedrooms. The bedroom door on the left was closed. We entered the one on the right. Paul quickly closed the door behind us and, except for an awful smell, the room looked like a Walt Disney movie.
Birds of various colors were flying in and out of the open windows on the right, which faced the churchyard next door. The half-opened windows not only allowed birds to enter and leave at will, but also allowed some of the church tree’s thin, outstretched branches to reach into the room. Bird poop was here and there.
The room felt cold, but was probably warmer than the outside temperature. The stench was getting to me. I was afraid I might have an asthma attack, but I had to check out the two dressers against the wall. They were the only pieces of furniture in the room.
There were a few birds’ nests both on top of the dressers and in many of the open drawers. Some, but not all, of the nests contained eggs. I remember that there were blue eggs and also speckled eggs, but no baby chicks as I had imagined there might be.
As if what I had seen (and smelled) wasn’t unusual enough, I believe that I could hear the “Bird Lady” softly chirping and “talking” to the birds, who seemed to be chirping back. Who would have expected such an experience could occur, let alone in an apartment building, in The Bronx?
Fast-forward to September 2013, when I was a National Park Service volunteer for a month at Gateway National Recreation Area on Staten Island, New York.
On one of my days off, I visited my old neighborhood in The Bronx, which I hardly recognized. My old apartment building was still there, but Paul’s apartment building was gone, as well as the church next door.
In their place was the Grand Playground, but unlike many New York City neighborhood playgrounds, this one had many trees and plants growing, just where the churchyard had been. There was one especially large old tree with branches stretching way out to the sides.
It looked strangely familiar, especially with all the birds flying around. Some things never change.

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Finding, returning MIAs tough task

Posted on 08 December 2016 by admin

Here it is, almost the end of the year, and hopefully as a caring citizen, you’ve taken a moment during one or more of the anniversaries of Memorial Day, D-Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day and yesterday’s Pearl Harbor Day, to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in their service to our nation.
I hope that you will agree with me that it is very important also to remember the tragedy of the MIA, those 85,694 souls who are listed as missing in action, whose remains, as yet, have not been found or identified.
The count of those still missing is: World War I: 3,000; World War II: 73,137; Korean War: 7,807; Vietnam War: 1,618; Cold War: 126; Gulf Wars: 5; and a little-known conflict known as The El Dorado Canyon “incident” in Libya: 1.
Many people are unaware that there’s an arm of the Defense Department known as The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office and Accounting Command with an annual budget of $105 million, whose job it is to recover missing soldiers from past wars.
This large sum of money allocated by Congress each year reflects the reality of the commitment our government has to return home all of its military that it possibly can.
While some relatives have expressed discontent with the efforts of this group, it has generally received high praise for the extent of its efforts in finding, recovering and identifying the remains of missing Americans.
The search and identification team include professional genealogists, forensic anthropologists, archeologists, dental technicians, DNA scientists and explosive ordinance specialists. All of these specialists work as a team, 600 in all, to locate, recover, and identify remains to be returned to family members along with a book which details all aspects of the search and an analysis of the findings.
The Missing Personnel Office budget pays airfare for the closest of their kin to attend burial at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
More Americans should learn about the good work of this small, but important, governmental agency.
All our military deserves to come home.

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Archive memories for future generations

Posted on 24 November 2016 by admin

Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 seemed like any other school day at Bryan Adams High. The first sign of an unusual day was when the principal told us teachers as we signed in, “Some kids will be skipping school, without permission, to attend JFK’s arrival and motorcade. Make a list of all absentees!”
I had actually forgotten that Kennedy was coming to Dallas. I was excited about my upcoming marriage, just 30 days away, not the arrival of the president.
Sure enough, many students were absent. I had reminded my history and government classes earlier in the week that if they were planning to see the president’s arrival at Love Field or his motorcade downtown, that they could get “extra credit” by writing a brief “on the scene” report of what they observed. The principal might not have liked that, but it was my way of turning a “punishable offense” into an “educational moment.”
The early afternoon startling announcement of JFK being shot and soon thereafter being declared “dead” seemed to subdue most kids. They mumbled among themselves, trying like the rest of us, to sort things out.
Thankfully, school let out early. As I headed out to the parking lot, I wondered if it were the Russians or the Cubans who were responsible for our nation’s terrible loss. Maybe I would find out later that evening when I was scheduled to report for my weekly duty as a Dallas Police Reservist at police headquarters.
After Oswald was captured, police reservists were asked to be on duty Saturday and Sunday. It was shocking to see how the world’s press corps had actually taken over almost every desk and phone normally manned by police personnel.
It was bedlam as they moved Oswald through the hall. You’ve seen the scene, replayed each November, Oswald’s blackened eye, the smirk on his face, being led into an office as an officer followed, holding the rifle aloft for all to see. Detectives wore white Stetsons. My eyes were glued on Oswald so I missed spotting Jack Ruby, standing nearby, whose gray hat I later recognized on television.
Everyone on duty that weekend was soon questioned by the FBI. I was no exception. Arranging to meet me at Bryan Adams during my planning period were two agents. One asked the questions while the other took notes.
It was quite sobering at first when one agent asked, “Is the information you’re about to give, truthful? You will be liable if you have not told the truth.” This meant that lying to the FBI is a punishable offense, so I was very, very, very careful of what I said.
“I didn’t personally know Jack Ruby but I once visited his Carousel Club office in downtown Dallas with the officer I was riding with. It was a cold night and we had stopped for a free cup of hot coffee.”
“More recently, about three weeks before the assassination, while riding with two officers, one of the officers said, “Hey, there’s Jack! Let’s stop!” We were on Industrial Boulevard. Coming out of a nightclub was “Jack” with two fur-draped women, one under each of his arms.”
“Both officers got out of the car to speak with “Jack.” I was told to stay in the car to listen for any radio calls. After a few minutes, a call did come in. We quickly left and I soon forgot about “Jack.” I later recognized him in the newspapers as Jack Ruby.
“The Sunday morning Oswald was to be transferred to the Dallas County Jail, I had been placed on duty across the street from the police garage tunnel exit. I had been told to prevent anyone from crossing the street to the police building. There were around 40 or so spectators waiting for Oswald’s transfer.”
“The ‘boom’ of the shot echoed out of the tunnel and the armored truck soon pulled out, allowing the police ambulance to leave, rushing Oswald to Parkland Hospital. I noticed the armored truck’s right-side door was swinging open, about to possibly hit  someone standing at the curb edge of the sidewalk. Running up to it, I closed it  shut before it could hurt anyone.”
My complete story and others can be found on  the Sixth Floor Museum’s interview collection, “Living History, Jerry Kasten” on YouTube.
Chances are that there are childhood memories and historic events which you remember. Why not share those memories with your children and grandchildren by writing them down in a notebook, including comments, photos?
The Dallas Jewish Historical Society  located at the Dallas JCC, has a wonderful oral history project, which involves videotaping interviews with  senior citizens. These professionally done conversations can then be accessed online by friends, family members and anyone wishing to learn events of the past from those who actually experienced them.
We are all part of history. What’s your story?

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Not all war veterans are heroes

Posted on 10 November 2016 by admin

During peacetime or wartime, every person who enlists or is drafted into an armed force takes an oath to “… support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies … and … obey the orders of the officers appointed over me … So help me God.”
All members of America’s armed forces receive basic military training so that no matter what their daily job may be in peacetime, they will be able to take up a weapon to “support and defend” if called upon.
Having served in South Korea in 1955-1956, years after the truce had been signed, I am not an actual “war” veteran, but am classified as a Korean War-era veteran. As an Army photographer, I “shot” many people … but only with my camera.
Fast-forward to Sept. 11, 2001, and soon thereafter I found myself and other veterans being referred to as “heroes.” I have felt quite uneasy and undeserving of such praise. I cannot think of one thing that I’ve done that was “heroic.”
There are approximately 40-plus veterans’ organizations in the United States but I joined just two, The Korean War Veterans and The Jewish War Veterans.
In each of them, I have had the honor of meeting some real heroes, who, as soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, have faced and fought the enemy in battle. Some of their stories will eventually appear in this column.
I’m sorry to say that there are some folks, veterans and non-veterans, who are “hero wannabes.” They embellish their service by wearing medals and service ribbons they never earned or were never in service to begin with. Real heroes do not boast.
As for the rest of us true veterans, we are generally not the heroes that others make of us. As veterans, we are just citizens who have had different experiences. Ask us what those were and then you can decide if we are heroes.
I value the training and experience I received in the military and I will forever be grateful for the higher education I received as a benefit of my military service.
I am a veteran, not a hero.

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Teddy Roosevelt: Brazen commander, friend of Jews

Posted on 27 October 2016 by admin

If I had to choose my favorite president in America’s history, it would have to be, for  many reasons, Theodore Roosevelt.
Henry Pringle’s biography of Roosevelt was the first presidential life story I read as a child. I became endeared to Teddy when I read of his severe childhood asthma attacks and how his father carried him to their horse carriage. They rode late at night through the downtown New York streets in an attempt to force the cool night air into his lungs.
That scene reminded me of when I, also as a  child, gasping for air in my first frightening asthma attack, was picked up by my father. I was hurriedly carried to a doctor’s office to receive the life-saving relief of an  epinephrine (adrenaline) shot, something which did not exist in Roosevelt’s time.
Encouraged by his father, Roosevelt took on physical exercises and activities which helped increase his lung capacity and body strength, eventually overcoming what could have been a life-long health problem.
I  also hold Roosevelt in great esteem for his love of country and strong support for the development of a powerful modern  Navy.
As Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897, with deteriorating relations with Spain over the future of Cuba, he foresaw a looming war on the horizon.
While his boss, the Navy Secretary, was on an extended vacation, TR took advantage of his absence to brazenly assume the position of Acting Secretary of the Navy, ordering additional supplies, fuel and firepower to  be sent to America’s Pacific Fleet.
In addition, he managed to transfer one  of the Navy’s most successful leaders, Commodore George Dewey, from a desk  job in Washington, D.C. to Commander of   America’s Asiatic Fleet near the Spanish controlled Philippines.
By the time war broke out with Spain in 1898, Commodore Perry was in place with a fully supplied fleet, attacking and destroying every enemy ship in Manila Bay.
In later years as President, Roosevelt wanted to  demonstrate to imperialist nations that  the United States had a powerful navy, capable of protecting its shipping lanes  anywhere in the world.
With hulls painted white, 16 new battleships and their tenders left in December 1907, for a successful fourteen-month circumnavigation of the globe. The experience had a positive  impact on the future of fleet operations and ship design, and provided excellent  experience for all involved. It definitely  impressed the rest of the world and helped prepare our nation for the war ahead.
Because of the enthusiastic support which Roosevelt provided the U.S. Navy throughout his career, the Navy League of the United States, in 1922, designated today, Oct. 27 his birthday, as Navy Day. If you are lucky enough to know a Navy veteran, wish him or her a “Happy Navy Day.”
Finally, let us look at Roosevelt and the Jews. In 1903, he sent his personal protest along with a public petition to the czar, objecting to the Kishinev pogroms, but the Russian despot completely ignored it.
Roosevelt was the first president to appoint a Jew, Oscar Straus, to a cabinet post (U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Labor).
After World War I, as the popular ex-president, he spoke out in favor of Jews being given control of Palestine.
You do not have to be Jewish to think highly of Roosevelt. Every legitimate ‘Top Ten  Presidents’ list I  have found, and rightfully  so, includes the name, Theodore Roosevelt.

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Military sadly deficient in Jewish chaplains

Posted on 13 October 2016 by admin

The original title of this column was “Happy Birthday U.S. Navy!,” because it was Oct. 13, 1775, that the new American government allotted money for the construction of two warships, thereby establishing the beginnings of the American Navy.
Naturally, I checked out our Navy’s current strength, finding that we have the most modern high-tech ships afloat with China and Russia close behind.
But, in checking on manpower, I found that our Navy and all other of our military (Army, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard) are all deficient in one aspect, not enough Jewish chaplains to serve our active-duty Jewish military and their families.
Specific numbers are not easy to get from the U.S. Defense Department, but the Jewish Welfare Board offers these estimates:
Total number of active duty Jewish personnel in all five branches, 10,000. Adding spouses and dependents, 25,000.
Number of full time active duty Rabbi chaplains: Army: 12, Air Force: 7 Navy, Marines and Coast Guard: 11, a total of 30 Jewish chaplains.
Even with part time reserve and National Guard chaplains, it’s an impossible task for 30 chaplains to serve 10,000 service-members and their families all over the United States and overseas.
In order to attract more rabbis into the chaplaincy, restrictions are being lifted and regulations are changing. Beards for Jewish chaplains are now allowed, opening the door for Orthodox rabbis. Scholarships for rabbinic students are being offered. Cantors now have a pathway to become chaplains.
Sure, it’s easier and probably more lucrative to serve a congregation, as a chaplain, you serve your country and fellow man, impact the lives of non-Jews and Jews, each an honor and a mitzvah.
Perhaps someone reading this will share our military’s need with a potential rabbi. The Jewish Welfare Board and the Aleph Institute are helpful sources of information.

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‘National Sorry Day’ better describes Columbus’ legacy on Native Americans

‘National Sorry Day’ better describes Columbus’ legacy on Native Americans

Posted on 29 September 2016 by admin

With Yom Kippur right around the corner, and Columbus Day as well, all Americans, not just Jews, should face the reality of our nation’s shameful history of the near-decimation of the Native Americans.
Christopher Columbus has historically been given credit for the wrong things and it’s time we take a reality check.
Based on earlier voyages by other explorers, Columbus already knew that the earth was round before he set sail.
Columbus’ objective was to find gold and other precious metals and claim territory for his benefactors.
Vikings and others had discovered America before Columbus.

Photo: Jerry Kasten Protesters demonstrate in front of Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas.

Photo: Jerry Kasten
Protesters demonstrate in front of Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas.

When Columbus landed in the Bahamas, met by the friendly and docile Taino Indians, his first thoughts were of how easily they could be subdued and enslaved, which is what he quickly accomplished.
Columbus, his men and other Europeans who followed, brought with them diseases which they had immunities to, but which eventually decimated the native population.
So, if you want to give Columbus his proper due, credit him with introducing slavery into the New World and making use of superior European weaponry to conquer, subdue, and enslave a native population.
Given the fact that Native Americans were residents of the Americas long before Columbus and other Europeans arrived on the scene, we should also acknowledge the more than 300-year destructive history of the Indian civilization by Americans and the English colonists before them.
Instead of having open discussions leading to mutually agreed-upon treaties, colonists formed militias, armed with their advanced European weaponry, forcing Native Americans away from their traditional hunting, fishing and agricultural lands.
Most treaties were forced on tribal leaders and all 400 treaties have been violated in one form or another. Indians were given what was then considered the poorest-quality land in some of the most desolated areas. In later years, discoveries of gold, oil or other resources on those same lands resulted in extensive treaty violations, and in some cases, forcible removals of Native Americans.
Problems continue. Recently, the American Indian Movement of Central Texas demonstrated at an oil pipeline company’s corporate headquarters in Dallas. They protested the building of a pipeline in the Dakotas, close to the Missouri River, endangering their water supply if a break in the line were to ever occur.
A federal judge recently ruled that construction on the northern pipeline must be halted, a rare but satisfying victory for Native Americans.
What can you and I do to help? First, stop glorifying Columbus and recognize the true place in history of our earliest Americans.
Many Texans are unaware of the fact that Texas has joined 16 other states in refusing to recognize Columbus Day as a national holiday, which is a step in the right direction.
While some states have substituted Indigenous Americans Day for Columbus Day, another possibility is suggested by what the Australians did to apologize for wrongs done to their Aboriginal people, calling a day of forgiveness each year, National Sorry Day.

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