Well, it’s early Sunday morning and I am sitting in my office preparing my classes for the start of a new trimester. Once again, I am teaching an elective called, Civil War Memory, which I’ve offered over the past three years. The course has taken different forms from a standard readings course to a course on film. This year I am trying to structure the course so as to give my students a sense that they are contributing to the ongoing discussion about how the Civil War ought to be commemorated throughout the sesquicentennial. I’ve played around with the idea of having my class form their own commission and build a website that would outline what they hope to accomplish over the next few years. One of the activities planned will ask students to write their own proclamation for the state of Virginia after a careful examination of documents related to Governor McDonnell’s experience.
I tend to use the first day of a new class to jump right in rather than go through the tedious steps of outlining the course as well as my expectations. Most of my students are already aware of my expectations and they can read the outline on the course website. Let’s get to the important stuff. I think I found a promising little lesson to get things going. This morning I read a brief editorial in our local newspaper that attempts to give voice to our courthouse Confederate statue:
My name is Johnny Reb, the young soldier you see downtown every day at the courthouse. I killed and died for the Confederate States of America. I now see the great pain and suffering I brought to my family and my country in this misguided war. I am sorry too for attempting to perpetuate the slavery of Africans, brought here in cruel servitude, an enduring stain on America’s heritage of liberty. “If I could rise from my grave, I would walk to President Lincoln’s memorial in Washington and ask his forgiveness. And I would ask to shake the hand of President Obama and thank him for his service in healing the great country America has become despite my mistake.
I’m not so concerned about the substance of the editorial as much as I am with the imaginative act of speaking for the statue – an act that reminds us that our understanding of the meaning of these sites is always changing. Perhaps I will come up with a couple of questions to assist them or maybe it’s better just to let them go to see what they come up with. Most of my students will have taken my survey course on the war. This is also a way to connect students to the local memory of the Civil War and this exercise can be done on any number of grade levels. I will let you know what, if anything, comes of it.