Various violent, white hate organizations—or the “alt-right”, a self-styled euphemism—marched in Charlottesville, Virginia carrying clubs, pepper spray, and torches in August, 2017.1
Under the auspices of respect for Southern heritage, this amalgamation of white supremacists streamed onto The University of Virginia’s campus chanting slogans reminiscent of Nazi Germany.2
They sought to contest the removal of a statue of Robert Edward Lee, which was built almost 60 years after the top Army Commander of the Confederate States of America surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War.3
The rally reaffirmed that violent, white hate organizations are not a historical remnant and will forcefully challenge a Confederate memorial’s removal.4
History students may question how American society arrived at this point of contention over a statue. I offer this theory-into-practice inquiry into Confederate memorials for secondary teachers to prudently apply and adjust as they see fit. Centering on disciplinary literacy and historical inquiry, the close reading and text-based writing prompts position students to evaluate primary and secondary sources.5
Grappling with diverse sources enables students to contextualize the statues to determine how we should memorialize the past.
Prior to the inquiry into Confederate monuments, students should have a strong background with slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow. It is important to recognize how the selected textbook and trade books represent, and at times misrepresent history.6
Supplementary primary sources can position students to fill the historical gaps.7
Library of Congress (LOC), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) offer primary sources free for classroom use.8
Facing History and Ourselves, C3Teachers, and Teaching Tolerance are particularly noteworthy for their developed units on slavery, Reconstruction, and segregation.9
To demonstrate Jim Crow’s ubiquity, a Library of Congress collection of signs denoting segregation complements a documentary by American Public Media that details how segregation emerged ubiquitously in various institutions in both the North and South.10
These resources enable students to contextualize slavery, Reconstruction, and segregation, which will ground the inquiry into Confederate monuments.
Dimension One: Compelling and Supporting Questions
Confederate memorials did not appear in isolation; they were made by people and installed in communities at specific points in time and for a particular purpose. A Compelling Question—like, Why did memorials to the Confederacy emerge in America?—should guide the inquiry. Possible supporting questions include, how does the demography of the Confederate monument’s location magnify its impact? What is the relationship between lynching, convict leasing, and Confederate statues? How are lynching, convict leasing, and Confederate memorials forms of racial regulation? The Compelling and Supporting Questions, part of the C3 Framework’s Dimension One, guide the inquiry towards the disciplinary thinking anticipated within Dimension Two.
Dimension Two: The Historical Context
Historians’ heuristics—like establishing historical significance, analyzing contexts, causes, and consequences, and engaging historical perspectives—emerge within Dimension Two. Teachers can evoke such habits of mind through intentional questioning. Ask students to predict the relationship between lynching, convict leasing, and Confederate statues. Use a timeline so that students can view particular events from Abraham Lincoln’s election past Barack Obama’s. The following questions may also prove useful: Which events might spark lynching? When might convict leasing increase? When did Confederate memorials likely appear? How will lynching, convict leasing, and Confederate statues be impacted by the Confederacy’s birth, the Civil War’s end, Reconstruction’s beginning, or Reconstruction’s end? Will lynching, convict leasing, and Confederate statues mostly likely emerge before, during, or after a war? How will the Panics of 1873 and 1893, the recession after the Great War, the Roaring Twenties, and the Great Depression shape lynching, convict leasing, and Confederate memorials? When do you think the last Confederate memorial was created? When was the last documented lynching? The sorts of questions spark conceptual connections between seemingly unrelated aspects of American history as students engage in various elements of historical thinking. Students, in doing so, are positioned to scrutinize diverse texts as an extension of Dimension Three.
Dimension Three: Evaluating Sources
To answer the previously-posed questions, students can and should analyze the best available evidence. Evaluating primary and secondary sources prepares students to grasp the horrors of lynching and convict leasing while considering their relationship with Confederate monuments. Lynching, convict leasing, and Confederate statues emerged at specific times and largely in parallel. Students’ contextualization of these patterns enables recognition of the Confederate memorials’ original intent and modern meaning.
Lynching, while technically illegal, was commonplace within and beyond the American South. Lynching in America provides an interactive state-by-state map, podcasts from descendants of survivors, and video to complement its full report.11
NARA’s Document Analysis Worksheet gives different prompts based on the type of source, which is beneficial for teachers who assign diverse texts.12
While working with Lynching in America, NARA’s Document Analysis Worksheet helps students to make sense of the haunting photographs, to extract understandings from survivors’ stories, and to ascertain meaning from the patterns of racial terror within the figures presented.
Students’ understandings of lynching can be refined with analysis of secondary sources. The Origins of Lynching Culture in the United States
, a short documentary, contextualizes the naissance of lynching.13
Students better understand racial regulation through terror by recognizing how lynching originated, festered, and escalated. An Outrage, a 30-minute video, juxtaposes past and present to historicize lynching.14
Scrutinizing both documentaries refines students’ conceptualizations of lynching, which originated from primary source analysis. NARA’s Document Analysis Worksheet prompts students to determine the historical significance of each new source.
Lynching was not like a tsunami, striking with little warning at remote locations and beyond human control. Lynching was initiated and celebrated by some citizens and communities in every state. Historical artifacts demonstrate how lynching was a community event for white society: bystanders, sometimes even young children, were photographed with the burning, hanging victims; merchants printed and sold commemorative postcards; journalists reported the carnival-like atmosphere in local newspapers. Without Sanctuary: Photographs and Postcards of Lynching in America is a digital repository of these and other gruesome relics.15
Students quickly recognize how these artifacts were created for celebratory and commercial purposes. Writing prompts within NARA’s Document Analysis Worksheet compel students to scrutinize—not simply observe—diverse texts.
Lynching was widespread, celebrated, unpunished, and complemented by convict leasing. Under convict leasing, African Americans were arrested on dubious charges, provided sparse legal defense, put on trial with a jury of anything but peers, convicted, imprisoned, and forced into dangerous, seemingly unending, and sometimes deadly work. PBS’s Slavery by Another Name makes re-enslavement tangible for adolescent learners.16
The evocative photographs compel viewers to recognize an aspect of American history they likely had not considered: racial terror using legal means. The convict leasing timeline aligns distinctly with the data within Lynching in America. Both appeared in the 1870s, emerged powerfully in the early 20th century, and again after the Great War; lynching—not convict leasing—surged during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Collectively, PBS’s Slavery by Another Name and the aforementioned lynching-based resources position students to juxtapose patterns of lynching and convict leasing. Outbursts of lynching and convict leasing dubiously align with the ebb and flow of Confederate memorials construction.
Confederate monuments were built with public funds within and beyond the South. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy contextualizes the 1,500 publicly-supported Confederate symbols—of which, more than 700 are monuments—and more than 100 public schools carry names of Confederate leaders.17
Data in illustrative, accessible tables reveal the assembly of Confederate monuments and naming of schools by year. Confederate monument constructions start in 1861, the year of the Confederacy’s birth, and ends in 2014. Increases appear in the 1880s, after Reconstruction ended. Dramatic surges materialized during the first two decades of the 20th century and in the 1950s and 1960s, which encompass landmark Civil Rights events. The eruptions disconcertingly align with lynching and convict leasing. Equipped with these understandings and historical context, students are better prepared to engage in an inquiry-based writing assignment to communicate conclusions, or Dimension Four of the C3 Framework.
Dimension Four: Communicating Conclusions
Lynching is illegal today and convict leasing is no longer ubiquitous, but publicly-funded Confederate memorials and Confederate-named public schools linger. Should they remain? To determine the fate of Confederate memorials and Confederate-named public schools, students can ascertain the original intent and the context of its construction. An independent inquiry of a single Confederate monument allows individual students to distinguish one as the class collectively maps dozens. Students consider one particular town’s memorialization within the patterns established by convict leasing and lynching timelines. Students evaluate the historical representation of the Confederate memorial in order to justify its place in 21st century America, amend the language on its placard, or remove it entirely.18
contains 50 publicly-funded Confederate monuments. Importantly, each selected monument has a website detailing its intent and history; the websites, like the monuments, are all funded by state or local government. Questions in Table One prompt students to scrutinize, and not simply encounter, the monuments.
Prompts for Guided Inquiry
1) What is the name of the monument?
2) What is it?
c. Statue and a placard
3) Why was it built? How do you know? Is this explicit and obvious or implicit and hidden? What is your source of information to corroborate this?
4) When was it erected? How do you know? What was happening at the time related to race relations in the United States?
5) What was the state’s Civil War affiliation? Was it Confederate, Union, or a border state?
6) What was the demography of the state at the time of its construction? What is your source of information to corroborate this?
7) What is the state’s demography today? What is your source of information to corroborate this?
8) What is the demography of the school/town today? What is your source of information to corroborate this?
9) Who paid for its creation? Was it a private group or a public fund? What is your source of information to corroborate this?
10) Who owned the land? Was it a private group or a public fund at the time? What is your source of information to corroborate this?
11) How is it maintained? Is it a private group or a public fund? What is your source of information to corroborate this?
12) How should it be used?
a. Keep it up as is. Justify your answer.
b. Tear it down. Justify your answer.
c. Revise the placard and/or add a supplementary monument. Explain your proposal.
The questions above prompt students to first consider the origins of each monument, its stated significance, its publicly-funded status, and its future place. Not all appear anachronistic; some explicitly and wistfully celebrate the Confederacy, others recognize the gallant soldiers fighting for the Lost Cause, and still others somberly observe the conflict and its cost. The intent of some memorials appear rancorous. The Faithful Slave Memorial, started in 1922 and dedicated in 1931, celebrates loyal slaves who did not escape to the north or fight against the Confederacy. Located at the site of John Brown’s raid in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, this statue’s location is clear and significant. The intent of other statues appear less hostile, like those that simply recognize the dead. The Alton Confederate Cemetery and Memorial of Alton, Illinois commemorates the unmarked graves of Confederate soldiers who died as Union prisoners. Not all are located in the American South; they appear in more than two dozen geographically and politically diverse states, like Alabama, Massachusetts, and Washington.
Students then use such information to determine if the statue should remain, be removed, or be more fully contextualized within its placard. This text-based justification is the focus of Question 12. If the Confederate monument is a symbol of heritage, not a product of hate, then students can make that case. If it originated during a period of racial terror to memorialize a geopolitical entity founded in racism, fused in defeat, and funded by taxpayer money, then a remaking or removal is perhaps in order.
This inquiry positions each student to determine the historical significance of one publicly-funded, Confederate-based memorial. Students are informed by Confederate monuments’ historical relationship with lynching and convict leasing, which they use as a contextual framework. They consider other relevant elements, like the demography of the location then and now. As the class collectively constructs dozens of related inquiries, students determine if the memorialization was originally—or is currently—an acerbic message of publicly-funded intimidation or something else (e.g., commemoration). Students then determine if the monuments in question should remain, be amended, or be removed, where they justify their decisions using evidence. In doing so, students engage in historical argumentation and civic dialogue, which is at the heart of good social studies instruction.19
] Hawes Spencer, “A Far-Right Gathering Bursts into Brawls,” The New York Times
(August 13, 2017).
] Meg Wagner, “‘Blood and soil’: Protesters chant Nazi slogan in Charlottesville,” CNN
(August 12, 2017), http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/12/us/charlottesville-unite-the-right-rally/index.html
] Jacey Fortin, “The Statue at the Center of Charlottesville’s Storm,” New York Times
(August 13, 2017) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/13/us/charlottesville-rally-protest-statue.html?mcubz=0
] Maggie Astor, Christina Caron, and Daniel Victoraug, “A Guide to the Charlottesville Aftermath,” The New York Times
(August 13, 2017).
] Hilary Mac Austin and Kathleen Thompson, Examining the Evidence: Seven Strategies for Teaching with Primary Sources
(North Mankato, MN: Maupin House, 2015); Linda Levstik and Keith Barton, Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle Schools
(4th edition) (New York, NY: Routledge, 2011); James Loewen, Teaching what Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and get Students Excited about Doing History
(New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2010); Chauncey Monte-Sano, Susan De La Paz, and Mark Felton, Reading, Thinking, and Writing about History: Teaching Argument Writing to Diverse Learners in the Age of the Common Core, 6-12
(New York: Teachers College Press, 2014); National Council for the Social Studies, College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History
(Silver Spring, MD: NCSS, 2013); Jeffrey Nokes, Recognizing and addressing the barriers to adolescents’ “reading like historians,” The History Teacher
44, no. 3 (2011): 379-404; Peter Seixas and Tom Morton, The big six historical thinking concepts
(Toronto, Ontario: Nelson College Indigenous, 2012); Bruce VanSledright, Assessing Historical Thinking and Understanding
, (New York, NY: Routledge, 2014); Sam Wineburg, Daisy Martin, and Chauncey Monte-Sano, Reading Like a Historian: Teaching Literacy in Middle and High School History Classrooms
(New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2011); Sam Wineburg, Mark Smith, and Joel Breakstone, “New Directions in Assessment: Using Library of Congress Sources to Assess Historical Understanding,” Social Education
76, no. 6 (2012): 290-293.
] John Bickford and Cynthia Rich, “Examining the Representations of Slavery within Children’s Literature,” Social Studies Research and Practice
9, no. 1 (2014): 66-94; John Bickford and Lieren Schuette, “Trade Books’ Historical Representation of the Black Freedom Movement, Slavery Through Civil Rights,” Journal of Children’s Literature
41, no. 1 (2016): 20-43; James Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything your American History Textbook Got Wrong
(New York, NY: The New Press, 1995).
] https://www.loc.gov/; https://www.archives.gov/; http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/home.html
] https://www.facinghistory.org/topics; http://www.c3teachers.org/; https://www.tolerance.org