In Memoriam: Cleo Charles, 1943–2020
The Department of History mourns the death of Dr. Cleophus Charles, beloved historian, teacher, mentor, and friend. Over a career of more than twenty-five years, Dr. Charles fought to put the study of African American history and culture at the heart of the college’s life. Not long after he arrived at Berea in 1973, he became the department’s first tenured African American professor. In 1981, he founded the Afro American Studies program, and in 1997 the college formally recognized his extraordinary contributions in teaching, scholarship, and service by naming him Berea’s first Carter G. Woodson Chair in African American history. We mourn Dr. Charles’s passing and remember his distinguished tenure as an intellectual and moral leader in the fight for interracial education.
Why Study History?
The study of history provides a broad perspective on the human past with the view to understanding how persons behave and of what they are capable. The department requires that majors have a breadth of competence in the history of various areas of the world, and that they have an ability to research carefully, using a variety of methods. Considerable attention is given to the philosophy of history and the various points of view with which scholars have approached the study of the past. Historians contribute to society as teachers and researchers on many levels and in many settings: in classrooms from grammar school to university, in museums, archives, and libraries, at historical sites and for a wide variety of public and private agencies.
A background in history also provides a useful foundation from which to move into a variety of fields, particularly those professions that require an understanding of human activity—the ministry, journalism, law and politics, business. The history faculty represent a wide spectrum of the discipline in subject matter and methodology, from political history to material culture study, ethnic, gender and religious history, from ancient civilizations to the present, in the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
“The past isn’t dead; it’s not even past.”
“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness . . . Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
“Not to know what has been transacted in former times is to be always a child. If no use is made of the labors of past ages, the world must remain always in the infancy of knowledge.”
—Marcus Tullius Cicero
“Whoever controls the past controls the future.”
“People make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past.”
“It used to be said that the facts speak for themselves. This is, of course, untrue. The facts speak only when the historian calls on them: it is he who decides to which facts to give the floor, and in what order or context.”
“To study the past does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place. But I think it liberates us from the past too. I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians. The unhistorical are usually, without knowing it, enslaved to a fairly recent past.”
“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”
—Carter G. Woodson