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When It Comes to Confederate Flags, The History is the Context

It should come as no surprise that the two stories involving high school students waving and posing next to Confederate flags have become national news. It’s also painfully clear that the parties involved have no historical understanding of how to think through some of the important issues involved, namely the history. Last night the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board met to discuss the Instagram photo of two female students waving Confederate flags on the Gettysburg battlefield. A sizable crowd turned out to share their thoughts.

I am much more interested in the Chapel Hill situation precisely because it involves a school trip to Gettysburg. One comment that continues to surface, especially from those defending the girls, is that the photograph was taken out of context. What I take this to mean is that the girls did not intend to offend anyone in their school group or anyone who happened to see it online. It is unclear as to how the students came into possession of the flags, but regardless we can assume that the organizers of the event did not intend to offend anyone by sanctioning it. The father of one of the girls has repeatedly stated that the photograph was taken out of context. Continue reading “When It Comes to Confederate Flags, The History is the Context”

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Neo-Confederates

You can’t make up these stories. The other day I told you about two students who posed waving Confederate flags on the Gettysburg battlefield, along with a comment about purchasing slaves.

Yesterday a news story out of Colorado showed a group of students posing with guns and a Confederate flag as part of their prom celebrations.

Finally, we have the Maclay School in Florida, which decided to take their students deeper into the history of the Civil War with a reenactment that included the Confederate flag. Following a parent complaint about the flag, the school’s headmaster offered the following.

Maclay’s teachers are constantly seeking ways to deepen our students’ understanding of history. Project based simulations or hands on exercises are one way we help the students understand what history was truly like through experience and discussion. Our Civil War class this semester involved a reenactment of a battle complete with uniforms, flags, Nerf guns and in-depth discussions.

I do hope you weren’t drinking anything when reading that passage. Continue reading “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Neo-Confederates”

“Already Bought My First Slave” at Gettysburg

Gettysburg, Confederate flagI was a bit surprised when a couple of students on my recent Civil War trip attempted to purchase Confederate flags at one of the gift shops. Without giving it much thought I intercepted the students at the checkout counter and gently reminded them to think about the history that we had already examined as well as the talk on the history of the Confederate flag that I presented to the entire school. These students were not mean-spirited and perhaps it was just a case of boys being boys, but I did want them to do a little reflection before making the purchase.

Neither student made the purchase, but if it had been made I would have insisted that the flags be kept out of sight. I stand by this decision. I’ve said before that I wish gift shops were a bit more selective about the kinds of souvenirs they sell. It trivializes the history and the very ground, where so many Americans gave their lives. Continue reading ““Already Bought My First Slave” at Gettysburg”

Confederate Heritage is Alive and Well in Brazil

The gradual erosion of open celebrations of Confederate heritage throughout the United States stands in sharp contrast with a vibrant memory for the residents of Santa Bárbara d’Oeste and neighboring Americana, in Brazil’s south-eastern São Paulo state. Following Confederate defeat somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 white Southerners left for the promise of land and even the possibility of one again attaining slave-owning status in a foreign country. For close to thirty years the residents of this community have organized a celebration of their Confederate roots.

The images are right out of the Civil War centennial era, including the uniforms, dresses, dance, and large Confederate flags. All of it has a campy feel at best. Their memory of the Confederacy and the South is framed by a love for buttermilk biscuits and the “Dukes of Hazzard.” Very little attention appears to be focused on their ancestors themselves, many of whom were absorbed into Brazilian culture shortly after arrival. In fact, it’s not even clear what percentage of male immigrants actually served in the Confederate army. It also makes me wonder just how many of their ancestors wanted to put the whole Confederate experiment behind them and move on with their lives. Continue reading “Confederate Heritage is Alive and Well in Brazil”