Next month I am scheduled to give a talk in Walpole, Massachusetts as part of their Civil War 150 commemoration. In my discussion with the event organizer I was reminded of a story I read a few years ago about a resident who lives next to the high school’s football field and displays a large Confederate flag facing the campus. The story is not just about this neighbor’s flag, but about the school’s own use of the Confederate flag and other symbols.
The student video below, along with this blog entry, should give you a sense of the history and the lingering controversy surrounding this school’s continued identification with these symbols.
What I find so striking is how little knowledge of history is reflected in both the comments of students, teachers and administrators. They know that there is something problematic about the flag and the school’s past, but they are never quite able to nail it down. What a perfect opportunity for a conscientious History Department to step in and take the lead. Perhaps some do, but I would use the controversy to teach the Civil War and especially the Civil Rights Movement since that is more closely connected to the school’s history with the Confederate flag.
The school community can decide for themselves whether they’ve gone far enough to address the concerns expressed by so many, but they should at least have the necessary historical knowledge with which to make a sound decision.
Needless to say, I am looking forward to my visit.