Today’s News, Tomorrow’s History: The Fate of Confederate Monuments

Posted by Monica Brady-Myerov on March 9, 2018

Today’s News, Tomorrow’s History is an ongoing series with Listenwise. This series connects Facing History’s themes with today’s current events using public radio to guide and facilitate discussions around the social issues of our time. Listenwise is a regular feature on our Facing Today blog, and we are happy to now launch a special California series with Listenwise where we make connections to issues as they are particularly relevant for Californians.

Our first in this series links to a workshop we are doing next week on strengthening interdisciplinary literacy skills. We will take a look at confederate monuments and how they are seen in society today. In California, we have seen similar debates in relation to naming of schools and other buildings. But, it’s important to remember that California is also part of this Reconstruction Era legacy.

Symbols have psychological meaning and significance. They can go beyond what is seen to represent other, very different concepts. Time can change the meaning of certain symbols and what a symbol represents can evolve when seen in a new context.

The last few years have changed the way Confederate monuments, statues and flags are viewed. The Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina Capitol grounds shortly after after the Charleston church shooting in 2015. A white man killed 9 people after posting a manifesto full of racial hate and photos of the Confederate flag. This sparked a debate about the meaning of Confederate monuments, resulting in several U.S. cities removing Confederate statues from public land. Most of these statues were built decades after the Civil War as a means of intimidating African Americans and establishing who was to be honored in this conflict about slavery.  

Many people who want the Confederate monuments to remain argue that they are a part of the history and the culture of the United States. Alabama and Tennessee passed laws in 2017 limiting the ability to move or rename monuments. However in New Orleans, Louisiana, Mayor Mitch Landrieu removed Confederate memorials and gave a speech stating, "After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone's lawn."

The debate has become highly political and even deadly. In Charlottesville, Virginia a rally held by white nationalists became violent when they clashed with counter demonstrators. One woman was killed. The white nationalists were in Charlottesville to protest the city’s plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee. The clash has raised tensions around the country about what to do with monuments honoring Confederate figures.

Richmond, Virginia had a large slave marketplace and strong Confederate Army during the Civil War. The city is home to many Confederate statues and monuments. Listen to this audio story, as people from the city gather to discuss the pros and cons of these memorials, and the fate of its Confederate statues.

Join the conversation:

  • What is the reasoning described in the story for the construction of the monuments?
  • What is the main argument for preserving or taking down the monuments?
  • What is meant by the quote, “History is not only about what we choose to commemorate, but what we choose to forget?”
  • How would you define the phrase, “you cannot have reconciliation without recognition” in the context of this story?
  • How do communities and cities define who belongs and who does not?
  • How does the way we view others influence our feelings toward them?

Keep the conversation going with Facing History:

Explore more stories about Confederate monuments from Listenwise.

  • Discuss how the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina led to the removal of the Confederate Flag from the State Capitol.
  • Listen to this story of how Confederate statues were removed from New Orleans, Louisiana and then debate whether statues from the past should be removed.
  • Compare the audio story from Richmond, Virginia to this story of a college mascot being removed for representing hate and discrimination.
  • Buildings at Princeton University are named after President Woodrow Wilson, who actively supported segregation. Listen to this story and discuss the effect on students at the university and debate whether the names should be changed.

Listenwise helps teachers use public radio stories in their classrooms. To find more public radio stories and lessons for your middle and high school ELA, social studies, and science classrooms you can sign up for a free Listenwise account!

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