Teaching the Confederate Flag Controversy

Schools across the United States are dealing with the question of what to do about displays of the Confederate flag on campus. Last week around two dozen students in Christiansburg, Virginia were suspended and this week a school in Michigan requested that students leave the flag at home. Unfortunately, we are hearing little to nothing about whether schools are taking the opportunity to educate their students about this controversy. This is a unique opportunity for history/social studies departments to step in and try to help their students make sense of the long and complicated history of the Confederate flag. There are likely a number of reasons why this does not appear to be taking place. With that in mind I offer one possible approach to dealing with this issue in the classroom. Please pass this on to teachers and other educators who might be in need of some guidance. I am now scheduling talks and workshops with schools and individual classes. You can find more information about how I can help here

On July 10, 2015 the Confederate battle flag was removed from the grounds of the state capital of South Carolina in Columbia, where it had flown since 1962, following the murder of nine members of the AME Emmanuel Church in Charleston. The decision to lower the flag and the national debate that ensued concerning the display of the Confederate flag in public places was fueled by the alleged shooter’s written testimony that he hoped his actions would inspire a race war as well as the release of photographs of the individual with Confederate flags. Continue reading “Teaching the Confederate Flag Controversy”

Few Thoughts About Confederate Iconography at #AASLH2015

Yesterday’s session on the role of public historians in the ongoing debate surrounding Confederate iconography at #aaslh2015 went extremely well. We had a full house and the comments were incredibly thoughtful. I love that the participants didn’t wait for the allotted time at the end of the session. They jumped right in, which suggests that public historians have a great deal on their minds and want to be engaged.

The question of how to proceed, however, is less than certain. I sensed a fairly sharp split among the audience and even the panelists. On the one hand there is the push for context and interpretation along the narrow lines of some form of wayside exhibit. This can take many forms, but the basic assumption at work here is that historical context has the potential to defuse the strong emotions on both sides by neutralizing the site. In providing historical context we acknowledge that what may have at one point represented a community no longer does so without removing it and offending those who still find meaning in its presence. Continue reading “Few Thoughts About Confederate Iconography at #AASLH2015”

The Washington Post “Airbrushes” Debate About Confederate Iconography

The editorial team at The Washington Post has decided to jump into the debate surrounding Confederate iconography. Unfortunately, they provide little more than the standard platitudes and offer nothing for communities that are in the midst of what is a highly emotional and divisive discussion.

At the center of the argument is the assumption that the changing of a name or removal of a monument represents the “airbrushing” of history. The term is never defined, but the author appears to believe that any alteration to a community’s commemorative landscape involves a conscious effort to look away or ignore history.  Continue reading “The Washington Post “Airbrushes” Debate About Confederate Iconography”

Evaluating the Civil War Sesquicentennial

Some of you who are interested in the question of how to evaluate the Civil War sesquicentennial may find the following panel discussion worth your time. The panel is from a conference that took place in Virginia over the summer and was filmed by C-SPAN. You will see some familiar faces. It should come as no surprise that the events in Charleston and the subsequent debate about the Confederate flag occupied a good deal of attention and it was interesting to hear how different people are thinking through some of these difficult issues.

My only concern is that at one point mid-way through the discussion, the topic of the vandalism of Civil War monuments appeared to be framed in terms of how whites and blacks think about and remember the Confederacy. The implicit assumption at work seems to be that African Americans are responsible for the defacing of Civil War monuments. I have yet to see any evidence suggesting that African Americans are more likely than whites to vandalize Confederate monuments.

Yes, a number of Confederate monuments have been spray-painted with “Black Lives Matter,” but regardless of what you think about the organization, it could just as likely have been carried out by a white individual. It’s time we move beyond this tired trope.

Steve Earle Declares, “Mississippi, It’s Time”

It’s been another tough week for Confederate flag advocates. Virginia unveiled the new specialty plate for the Sons of Confederate Veterans that does not include the battle flag. Why even bother. Alexandria, Virginia will no longer fly the Confederate flag on Robert E. Lee’s birthday and Confederate Memorial Day. And in Pittsylvania County (again in Virginia) a judge has ordered that a display of Confederate flags and memorabilia must be removed from its county circuit courtroom.

Way out in California, the state senate voted to ban the naming of schools and public buildings after Confederate leaders. A police officer, who was photographed wearing Confederate flag shorts, lost his appeal to be reinstated. Continue reading “Steve Earle Declares, “Mississippi, It’s Time””