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Gilder-Lehrman Institute for the Teaching of History

The email invitation said, “I am hoping you would be available to be our guest on Sunday June 12 at 2pm ET to discuss Liberia & the Quest for Freedom.” My immediate reply was, “I would be honored.”

After all, this email was from the renown Gilder-Lehrman Institute, the premier center for the teaching of American history. Previous guests on their Book Break interview program have included Eric Foner, David Blight, Annette Gordon-Reed, and other award-winning historians.

As the day of the event approached, I grew nervous because no one had sent a run-of-show or similar information. Maybe they had changed plans, I thought. It turned out my anxieties were unfounded.

In our 15-minute preparatory session prior to the show, the host Nathan McAlister totally set me at ease. As a result, the show went smoothly.

Book Break with Nathan McAlister • Sunday, June 12, 2002

But I was left wondering about the somewhat polarized response triggered by my Liberia & the Quest for Freedom book. Judging from reviews and other measures, it has been well received by professional historians.

Meanwhile, the reception has been icy cold from some influential Liberians, including the leadership of the Liberian Studies Association. They seem intent on making the book disappear by ignoring it.

Their response is similar to non-scholars in America who are pushing to remove what they call “critical race theory” from the curriculum. In both cases, there’s a refusal to acknowledge slavery. In both places, there’s an avoidance of inconvenient historical truths.

There’s a critical difference, however. In America today, the slavery deniers are non-scholars, but their counterparts in Liberia are the intelligentsia.