Today’s New York Times reports that Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. of Charleston, South Carolina, has declared that our task is “to help get evil thoughts out of the minds” of Americans. According to the Times reporter, “Mr. Riley added that it was time for dialogue about race in America.”
Time? Those of us who study, teach, and write history are probably not the only people likely to suggest that he’s a bit late to the table on this issue. “It was time” quite a long time ago.
But better late than never, Mayor Riley. You and your colleagues can open the dialogue by taking down that Confederate flag, a symbol of a military struggle on behalf of the right of some human beings to own other human beings.
Mayor Riley, to his credit, acknowledges that there’s a reason why he has not been aware of “the time for dialogue” earlier. “We in America were not taught African-American history. It was never in the history books, and we don’t know the story.”
As a historian and former college professor who taught the African American history course that was apparently unavailable to Mayor Riley, I am deeply gratified by the mayor’s appetite for the history education that has until now eluded him. The American Historical Association will be sending him a small library in African American history.