CONFEDERATE FLAGS, MONUMENTS, AND OTHER MEMORABILIA
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INTRO-STORY AND INFORMATION
A real estate agent was showing a house available for rent in a working-class suburb. As he pulled up to the property, he noticed that across the street there was a Confederate flag prominently displayed in a neighbor’s front yard. Then, as he was leaving the property, he saw that the neighbor’s garage door had been opened, showing a lot of white supremacy paraphernalia. The agent talked to the police about it, feeling it was possibly a public nuisance or a public safety issue. The police response was that it was protected under the First Amendment. If this were in your neighborhood, your school’s or your church’s neighborhood, what would you do?
Let’s back up and look at the issue with a little more background. First of all,--why are there confederate monuments, flags, etc. around in 2018? Some say it is simply because they are history. Others say their purpose is as a memorial to those on the Confederate side who died in the war. Others say their purpose is to boldly maintain white supremacy.
Secondly, how wide-spread is the movement to take down these monuments? In April and May 2017, the New Orleans City Council voted to remove four Confederate monuments from their city. This decision came on the heels of other cities such as Austin, TX and Louisville, KY, who also voted to remove their statues; additional cities are also considering removing them. St. Louis took down a memorial that had stood in Forest Park in the summer of 2017. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu championed the effort to take down the four Confederate monuments, stating, “It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America; they fought against it. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.”
The latest national push for the removal of Confederate monuments and names began in 2015 after Dylann Roof, who idolized the Confederate flag, killed nine African-American worshippers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. That push was intensified after the demonstrations and violence in Charlottesville, VA in the summer of 2017. Racial justice activists have been working for decades on the removal of Confederate monuments and other related symbols. Taking down these monuments has come with significant opposition including pushback, threats against work crews and in some cases, protests and demonstrations.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
1. EDUCATION CLASSES WITH YOUNG CHILDREN:
• Meaning of a statue
Ask the children—when you see a statue of a person, what does that mean to you? Since a statue was put up, does that mean that the person is someone you should admire? Someone you should try to imitate? Who would you erect a statue for? Are there people that you think should not have statues?
• Story/children’s book
Use a book like Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine, with Kadir Nelson as illustrator.
A stirring, dramatic story of a slave who mails himself to freedom by a Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author and a Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist. Henry "Box" Brown doesn't know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves' birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday, his first day of freedom.
• Activity about erecting a statue to Harriet Tubman
Have the children pretend that they are members of a city council, and they have received a request from a citizen to erect a statue of Harriet Tubman in a prominent place in the city. Someone has offered to pay for the statue, so the discussion is around whether or not the people of the city would want a statue of Harriet Tubman—why or why not. (Then they should vote at the end of their discussion.)
2. EDUCATION CLASSES WITH YOUTH AND ADULTS:
• There are a number of YouTube videos about the Confederate monument controversy. One example is
View the video and discuss its contents with the class.
• Use the “What Would You Do” scenario above? (Confederate flag in the front yard) and ask the class what they would do in this situation.
• Listen to music that deals with slavery, racism, building bridges between each other, etc. Have a discussion about the song/s. A class of teen-agers might want to create their own song. Some suggested songs:
• CHANGE IS GONNA COME—Sam Cooke
• ELLA’S SONG by Sweet Honey ‘n the Rock
• NO MORE AUCTION BLOCK FOR ME by Odetta or Paul Robeson.
Below is a link to an interesting article about the song:
Check out the list of songs from BLACK ENTERPRISE. A number of them could be good discussion starters.
To get you started, here are a couple questions based on two of the songs:
“Black Rage” by Lauryn Hill (contains some sensitive language)
- What surprised or resonated with you after hearing this song?
- What organizations in your community are currently working to dismantle the racism and supremacist ideals that lead to these actions against black people? How can you assist in their efforts?
“The Times They Are A-Changin’” by Bob Dylan
- Who does Dylan call upon to make changes in the world? How should they change?
- If you could write another verse to the song that further reflects our reality in 2019, what would it discuss?
Another idea: listen to the song, “Glory” by John Legend and Common. It may be helpful to have the lyrics in front of you as you listen. After this, watch Legend and Common’s Oscar acceptance speech for the song. https://youtu.be/U4n4Fy6iyjo?t=150
Questions to consider:
- Common talks about the symbolism of the bridge Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched on in the march between Selma and Montgomery. What do you believe this and other landmarks of the Civil Rights movement symbolize today?
- John Legend says “the struggle for justice is right now.” Talk about places where you see injustice actively playing out in your community, and what you might do to change that.
3. EDUCATION CLASSES WITH MIDDLE SCHOOL AND HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS:
There are numerous lesson plans on tolerance.org (Teaching Tolerance) on the topic of slavery. Of particular note:
https://www.tolerance.org/classroom-resources/tolerance-lessons/slavery-as-a-form-of-racialized-social-control This lesson for high schoolers discusses how slavery and racism adapted after Emancipation.
https://www.tolerance.org/classroom-resources/tolerance-lessons/art-expression-through-music This activity for middle schoolers uses art to understand the emotions surrounding slavery.
https://www.tolerance.org/classroom-resources/tolerance-lessons/before-rosa-parks-susie-king-taylor This lesson that can be used for middle and high school highlights another important black woman who made significant contributions during the Civil War.
Thinking of doing a slavery simulation in your classroom? Please don’t.
https://www.tolerance.org/the-moment/march-11-2019-slavery-simulations-just-dont?utm_source=Teaching+Tolerance&utm_campaign=bb84dcae1e-Newsletter+3-12-2019&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_a8cea027c3-bb84dcae1e-83380271 This is why slavery simulations are a bad idea.
Extra TV Show Idea: If you have a Hulu subscription, you can stream the TV show “Underground”, a show based on the events of the Underground Railroad.
4. FOR PARENTS/GRANDPARENTS OF YOUNG CHILDREN:
•Book about the Freedom quilt –SWEET CLARA AND THE FREEDOM QUILT by Deborah Hopkinson, 1993. Perhaps use Sweet Honey in the Rock’s tape ALL FOR FREEDOM as a vehicle for discussion about what freedom means to the students.
• Use pieces of fabric to do art projects. Perhaps the children could attempt to stitch or color in directions to someplace.
• Harriet Tubman story and then a question about how she would feel about a Confederate statue
Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWVr57o_ElU to see an animated retelling of Harriet’s story from Discovery Education.
Books addressing racism, slavery and the Underground Railroad:
Sojourner Truth's Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney
-Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People To Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford
-Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
5. FOR PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS OF OLDER CHILDREN:
• Find quote from a news article for discussion
• Check about statements about Confederate monuments
Good books for high school students:
Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper
Day of Tears by Julius Lester
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
6. FOR CHURCH PEACE AND JUSTICE OR SOCIAL CONCERNS COMMITTEES:
• Statements mentioned above
• Check about any current national advocacy around monuments
• Education about slavery and the Confederacy
• Movie with discussion for the parish/congregation
Here’s a great article to start the discussion. https://www.stltoday.com/opinion/columnists/the-damage-to-the-souls-of-white-folks/article_50ba98f8-00f1-5ef3-913b-4c1edb8e19a6.html
SOME QUESTIONS TO DISCUSS:
- Do you think Confederate monuments should be removed? If so, what action can you take to remove monuments in your own community?
- Malcolm X once said, “You don't stick a knife in a man's back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you're making progress ... No matter how much respect, no matter how much recognition, whites show towards me, as far as I am concerned, as long as it is not shown to every one of our people in this country, it doesn't exist for me.” What thoughts or questions does this bring up for you?
- How, then, do we respond to Malcolm X in these times? What work lies ahead for us now?
Organize a panel or other discussion group to discuss appropriate action in your community, which educates people about the Confederacy and systemic oppression.
Research organizations in yours or neighboring communities that are engaged in these kinds of missions, and ask how you can help.
MOVIES FOR CONSIDERATION AND DISCUSSION
13th (Netflix documentary) Free State of Jones BlackkKlansman
GENERAL QUESTIONS TO SPARK DISCUSSION:
- What thoughts or questions come up for you after watching this movie?
- What kinds of action might this movie encourage in your community?
IPJ Website- https://peaceandjusticeinstitute.org (Facebook & Twitter links are in the upperleft hand corner of the IPJ website)
See you soon, IPJ
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