Great strides have been made in the effort to eliminate racism, but there is still much work to be done, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said Friday.
"What America gave the world, among other things, was our belief in meritocracy," Riley said. That means people reach the top based on ability and effort rather than social class or race, he added.
Riley spoke to a crowd of about 100 people at the YWCA of Greater Charleston for its first Stand Against Racism. Some 65 branches of the organization nationwide celebrated the event.
"There are so many reasons for us to stand up and work to eliminate racism," he said.
Among them, the absence of discrimination represents the achievement of a just society and results in a better-functioning economy, he said.
Riley said he had hoped that the election of President Barack Obama would wipe away the fears and reality of racism. "It was a great step but it didn't do that. We rejoice in all the achievements that we have made, but we still have work to do. This cause continues," he said.
Charleston had a prominent role as a slave port. Blacks brought here in chains and their descendants helped build the city and country and defend it, he noted. For that reason, plans for the local International African American Museum are a priority, he said.
After Riley spoke, a disc jockey fired up a sound system that blasted funky jazz in the parking lot. Dancing broke out. The smell of food for sale in a courtyard filled the air. Inside, henna tattoos and voter registration information were available.
Event sponsors included the Charleston School of Law, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Charleston Branch, the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters.