Teaching the History and Memory of the Confederate Flag

On July 10, 2015 the Confederate battle flag was removed from the grounds of the state capital in Columbia, South Carolina (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.


Americans are now engaged in discussions about the display of Confederate iconography from flags to monuments and even the names of streets and buildings. Communities across the country are debating whether reminders of the Civil War and the Confederacy specifically should continue to be displayed in public places.

For teachers this debate offers an ideal opportunity to engage students about why the history of the Civil War era matters and why, 150 years later, it is still being fought over.

The Challenge

Engaging students can be challenging. Discussions about the history of race and slavery often leave students feeling alienated and school communities divided. Numerous schools across the country have had to confront the tough question of whether students should be allowed to wear clothing with the Confederate flag or fly it from their vehicles. While the courts have ruled consistently in favor of school administrators, students are often left confused about why the Confederate flag is controversial at all.


Confederate Flags for Sale at Trump Rally in Upstate New York (2016)

How I Can Help

Throughout my teaching career I have encouraged my students to think carefully about the many meanings of the Confederate flag as well as how to understand Civil War monuments and other examples of Civil War iconography. I have also worked extensively with educators across the country to develop teaching strategies and curricular materials for their own classroom use. Much of my work places students and teachers on site to interpret local reminders of the war.

Institutions I have worked with:

My students interpreting the Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond, Virginia


My students interpreting the Jefferson Davis Monument in Richmond, Virginia

What I Do

There are a number of approaches that I can take in discussing this subject with your school community.

  • School-wide address on the history and memory of the Confederate flag followed by Q&A
  • School-wide address followed by workshop with small student groups around close analysis of historical documents
  • Workshop for History/Social Studies departments that are in need of suitable resources for their classrooms and teaching strategies
  • Workshop with teachers and/or administrators who are simply looking for more information with which to handle a current or recent controversy related to the Confederate flag
  • Workshop with students and teachers on site to interpret a local monument or other examples of Civil War iconography



Regardless of the approach, a presentation and/or workshop on the history and memory of the Confederate flag and monuments, within the context of the current controversy surrounding their public display, encourages students to take ownership of these important questions and can foster meaningful civic engagement.

My Background

For fifteen years I taught high school history in Mobile, Alabama, Charlottesville, Virginia, and most recently in Boston, Massachusetts. I have published extensively about the history and memory of the Civil War in popular magazines and academic journals and have appeared on C-SPAN and NPR. In 2012 the University Press of Kentucky published my first book, Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War as Murder. Click here for additional information.

Take the Next Step

Looking for additional information? Feel free to contact me and let’s get get started.