Bartolomé de Las Casas: The Relentless Conscience of an Empire

In today’s video, we will look at the life of Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, a Dominican Priest who, during the 1500’s at the most brutal time of Spanish conquest, indigenous exploitation, slavery and murder in the Americas, has been called the “world’s first Social Justice Warrior”.

But his isn’t a cosy story of messianic devotion to a cause held firmly in his breast from the outset. He was, in the beginning, one of the bad guys, up to his elbows in it. But then something happened that would transform him into a relentless champion of human rights at a time when the phrase didn’t even exist; taking part in the legendary Valladolid debate; pushing the Pope to issue a Human Rights Bull on behalf of indigenous people; hustling an audience with Charles V, Habsburg King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor; and then went on to publish what is considered the first anthropology textbook on the Americas.

His tireless campaigning would lead to changes in attitudes and law, that provided a foundation for the European enlightenment centuries later. And yet, today, he and compatriots such as Fray Antonio Montesinos largely remains one of the unknown heroes of history, being overshadowed by conquistadors such as Pizarro, Cortez and Columbus.

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