The Confederate flag stands—or sits in a museum display case—as a symbol of very different sentiments depending upon perspective.
For some, the flag flies in pride of past Civil War fighters and American heritage, but to others, it is an archaic symbol of racism, segregation and slavery in the United States. Following the fatal shooting of nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley finalized a bill to remove the flag from the state capitol building on July 10, 2015.
“No one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel pain. No one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel like they don’t belong.” Governor Nikki Haley
When the Charleston shooting first spurred national debate about whether the Confederate flag should be lowered, one female activist took it upon herself to scale the 30-foot flagpole and remove the battle flag herself.
“I’m prepared to be arrested,” Brittany Ann “Bree” Newsome told police, who demanded that she come down. Then she climbed a bit higher to unhook the flag before descending to greet the authorities, who handcuffed her and immediately put the flag back in its former position.
Newsome spoke for a greater community when she explained her motive:
”We can’t continue like this another day. It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.” —”Bree” Newsome
Politicians have struggled to reach an agreement about how to best honor history through the flag’s placement. A majority of civilians and government officials haven chosen instead to focus on what lies ahead; whether or not the flag represents a commendable moment in time, it does not represent the future of the United States.
An immense, mostly cheering crowd gathered to see the official lowering of the Confederate flag on July 10 — in the state that was the first to secede from the United States in 1860. Back then, Southern states that depended upon slave labor saw Abraham Lincoln’s election as a threat to their lifestyle and liberty. South Carolina lead the way in separating from the Union to form a new nation called the Confederate States of America. Ten other Southern states followed suit: Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The ideological and legal division between the (Northern) United States and the Confederate States of the South led to the Civil War.
[mediacore height=”375″ public_url=”https://brown.mediacore.tv/media/was-the-american-civil-war-a-war-over-slavery” thumb_url=”https://mediacorefiles-a.akamaihd.net/sites/11066/images/media/3668705l-6ZtcRbOI.jpg” title=”Was the American Civil War a war over slavery?” width=”670″]
“It wasn’t just about rights for African Americans, it was about reconstructing the nation…. It was about wholesale re-conceptualization of rights, on a national and international scale.” — Michael Vorenberg
Tensions continued to rise after officials removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol. On July 19, confrontation occurred at a rally between members of the Ku Klux Klan and the New Black Panther Party. At the height of the Klan in 1925, there were an estimated 5,000,000 members, while in the Civil Rights era (in the 50s and 60s) there were about 42,000 members. Approximately 24,000 remain today. While the KKK has diminished over time, this is the first Klan rally in South Carolina since the late 1980s.
Perceptions of race and its relevance throughout history remain a highly contested topic. Still able to provoke anger and pain, past instances of racial inequality can be difficult to discuss. For students and future leaders who will likely face similar challenges, this history is important to learn.
New standards of the Texas State Board of Education in 2010 will introduce a new social studies curriculum to 5 million public school students this upcoming semester. Many people are concerned that stories of suffering and fighting for civil rights are veiled, important lessons left unlearned.
The new textbooks depict the Civil War as a battle primarily over sectionalism and states’ rights versus slavery. Meanwhile, references to the Ku Klux Klan and the strict segregation laws of the Jim Crow caste system do not appear at all.
[mediacore height=”374″ public_url=”https://brown.mediacore.tv/media/what-was-it-like-growing-up-in-alabama-under-jim-crow” thumb_url=”https://mediacorefiles-a.akamaihd.net/sites/11066/images/media/3647790l-he0CIsF8.jpg” title=”What was it like growing up in Alabama under Jim Crow?” width=”670″]
National Public Radio addresses this topic through the lens of, “How Textbooks Can Teach Different Versions Of History,” while other sources openly offer concise opinions on why the new curriculum is dangerous for our students. For example, not mentioning Jim Crow laws means not addressing that black people were often barred from a fair education. The implications of this could support misconceptions, a culture of intolerance, and division amongst communities.
“Textbooks, as carriers of the knowledge and information that one generation wishes to pass on to the next…may promote prejudice and animosity, yet can also contribute to reconciliation and peace-building.”— George Eckert Institute
Houston Public Radio correspondent Laura Isensee spoke with current chairwoman of the Texas Board of Education, Donna Bahorich. Isensee reports, “While she [Bahorich] admits the state standards didn’t specifically mention important things like Jim Crow laws, she says she’s confident students will still get the full picture of history if teachers, and the new books, fill in the blanks.”
The Choices Program takes a different approach. Rather than tip-toeing around controversial events, Choices equips teachers with the curriculum required to address and deliberate difficult decisions made in history. Teachers have freedom to adapt lesson content to best meet students’ understanding and cultivate leadership skills. A great example is the Role Play activity from Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. The exercise engages students as “historians” analyzing perspectives of various Civil Rights documents, allowing the class to face complex issues in a controlled environment.
“Few, if any, instruments shape national culture more powerfully than the materials used in schools.”— The Economist
Educators dive into the complex challenge of teaching history so that students can contribute to the continual construction of a peaceful, productive society. The Choices team just provides the diving board.
Other Tools to Teach the Civil War & Civil Rights
- FREE Teaching with the News Lesson – Fifty Years after the March on Washington: Students in the Civil Rights Movement
- Award-winning iPad App “The Civil War Today” by the History Channel
- Smithsonian’s History Explorer – Hundreds of FREE online resources for K-12 teaching and learning American history