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Mississippi Teaches Confederate History Month Carefully

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April will be Confederate History Month in Mississippi, which puts some teachers in a difficult situation: How do you teach a subject so filled with emotion and politics without upsetting anyone?

“For teachers this public 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," wrote Kevin Levin, a Civil War historian, on his website, Civil War Memory. "How to go about engaging students, however, can be a walk on the slippery rocks. Discussions about the history of race and slavery can leave students feeling alienated and school communities divided.”

Darren Grem, assistant professor of history and Southern studies at the University of Mississippi, told ThinkProgress there might be some self-censorship when it comes to the Confederate flag and students who support it would rather say so on their social media accounts, including the somewhat anonymous YikYak.

“There’s silence on that in my courses ... You’ll see students speaking openly [on social media] about the flag as a deracialized symbol, a symbol of Southern pride, anti-government sensibilities, even a kind of sense of family and family heritage that makes the flag something of a synonym for mom and sweet potato pie,” Grem said. “It’s this idea of, yes there was slavery and yes, slavery was bad, but we’re frontloading all these other meanings in front of that and the idea that secession, and in some form in rebellion of authority, probably meaning liberal authority in Washington, is a good thing.”

Grem said he tries to explore why some students support it and if they really know what supporting it means in a political or even symbolic way.

“And to my students that support it, I say, ‘Just ask yourself if you would like to be affiliated with those types of sensibilities and more importantly, do you want to be affiliated with a sensibility of perpetual division and perpetual rebellion?'” Grem told ThinkProgress. “I just want to push them and ask them, ‘What are you rebelling against? What are you for?’”

Levine wrote that when teaching about the historical nature of the flag, it should be understood that it hasn't always been about Southern pride. Rather, it became politicized in the current vein we understand today as a response to desegregation and the Civil Rights movement.

“The Confederate battle flag became a potent symbol of 'Massive Resistance' against civil rights activists and could be found throughout the South at [Ku Klux Klan] rallies as well as students opposed to the integration of public schools,” Levin wrote.

Sources: ThinkProgress, Civil War Memory / Photo credit: Elvert Barnes/Flickr

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