This morning I was informed that a reader of this blog had written a letter addressed to the headmaster of of my school. The reader took issue with my decision to strongly discourage students from purchasing Confederate flags at Civil War gift shops during our March trip. The letter correctly notes that I stipulated that “if [students] did buy the flags he would require that they keep them out of sight.” According to this individual, this constitutes nothing less than “censorship.”
Let me say a few words about this so there is no confusion. I have been very clear on this blog over the years that I believe the Confederate flag to be a controversial symbol. Its meaning goes beyond the soldiers who marched with it and the Civil War entirely. I do not use flags on my battlefield walks given my pedagogical goals and I strongly believe that the flag’s presence must have a purpose for fear of it being misinterpreted.
Readers of this blog know that I believe the best way to understand the historical context of the Confederate battle flag is in a museum setting, where it can be properly interpreted. In public, that setting or context is jeopardized and open to multiple interpretations. There is the danger of social media, which we’ve seen time and time again. I also discouraged them from purchasing the flags because I didn’t know how their parents might respond. These were calls that I made as the responsible adult. Anyone who has ever chaperoned a trip of this scale will understand.
More disturbing, however, is that the author made a number of assumptions about the talk that I presented at my school on the history of the Confederate flag as part of our speaker series on the history of race in America. The letter accuses me of presenting my “attitude toward the Confederate flag…” For a writer who hopes to be taken seriously this was a strange move to make since he was not present for the talk. I did no such thing. What I presented was a history of the Confederate flag from the war through to the present day. The talk did indeed emphasize its role as a symbol of “Massive Resistance” during the Civil Rights Movement because it is well documented as part of the historical record. The talk overall followed the interpretive trajectory of John Coski’s authoritative study, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem.
The author goes on to remind our headmaster that one of South Carolina’s current black Senators favors flying the flag on capital grounds. He also referenced two Jewish senators from Florida and Louisiana. I am sure the headmaster of a Jewish day school was surprised to learn that there is a sizable Jewish constituency in Florida.
Finally, the author graciously offered to address our student body about Southern heritage during a Roundtable trip through New England in November 2015. It’s safe to say that this is not going to happen.
As I approach what may likely be my final year of high school teaching I am grateful to have worked at schools that placed their trust and confidence in my teaching and expertise. I’ve worked hard at building a reputation as a teacher and historian, which is why I find it funny that a very select few of you believe that you had any chance of doing damage to it. As in other cases, this letter was immediately forwarded to my department chair and then to me. We exchanged a few laughs and now…