We’re fighting today about statues and flags because we have yet to deal openly and honestly enough with our full past.
The horrific violence in Charlottesville, Va., has stirred painful memories of the night we lost nine neighbors, African Americans killed in the name of racial hatred while attending Bible study, two years ago last June.
Much like the senseless murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the marching of white supremacists and neo-Nazis through the streets of Charlottesville has been a shocking reminder of the harrowing racism that still smolders at the core of the American experience, divides us as people, and holds us back as a nation.
This, regrettably, will not end in Charlottesville, as it did not end in Charleston. We’re likely to see more such face-offs in other places, as cities across the South, and across the nation, struggle to reconcile two starkly different visions of the past we share.
One view is shaped by an effort to come to terms with centuries of slavery followed by racial injustice that endures to this day. The other view largely ignores that part of our national story and seeks to submerge it beneath oceans of silence, indifference and outright neglect.
We’re fighting today about statues and flags because we have yet to deal openly and honestly enough with that part of our past to reach a common understanding of who we are as American people, how we’ve come to this point, and where we’re going from here.
Doing that will require a faithful reckoning with this painful past. That means telling the full story about the people who were forced from their African homes in chains to work as slaves helping to build a nation that would deny them the fruits of their labors and the promise of a land they enabled to prosper beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings.
We took a giant step forward with the recent opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In showcasing the ways African Americans have helped shape this country and touched our lives, the museum is advancing a more complete story essential to understanding our country.
And we’re working to do our part in Charleston, a former slave port through which passed 40% of the Africans who came to this country in chains.
Part of our history is front and center in Charleston, a place where horse-drawn carriages ferry visitors down cobbled streets past antebellum mansions and white-steeple churches. There is, though, a far richer story we’re just beginning to tell, a deeply human story of struggle and sacrifice, achievement and triumph.
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SOURCE: USA Today – Joseph Riley Jr., professor of American Government and Public Policy at The Citadel, served as mayor of Charleston from 1975 to 2016 and is a board member of the International African American Museum.