As was typical after a lecture, students came up to ask questions. Usually it was a bare handful, most wanting to know about mundane issues like registration, the syllabus or the online learning management system of the university. And as soon as she answered one of those, the others filed out, having gotten their answer.
This time, though, many stuck around for something more substantive. One student asked her, “What do you propose we do about Confederate Flags and monuments to Lee?” From her accent, it was clear she was from a Southern state.
Several students nodded in agreement with the question.
“I did avoid answering that directly, didn’t it?” Alex commented.
More nods and some muttered agreement.
“Okay, first, the easy one. Monuments to people like Lee should remain monuments; however, we need to do more than remember that he was a than a Confederate general. The man had a rich life before the Civil War, and even made a difference after it. We can celebrate more than one aspect of a person’s life.”
That seemed to satisfy a lot of people from how they nodded along, but not the original question asker, who lifted a hand up and opened her mouth again, but Alex forestalled her with her own hand.
“The Confederate Flag is more complicated. Heritage and history are one thing, but is a war fought even partially to maintain a horrible institution like slavery to be celebrated? The Confederacy was not a happy chapter in American history. It may well have been inevitable, but I don’t think it’s something to take pride in. It’s a bit hyperbolic, but similar to the idea of taking pride in the Nazi flag.”
A student next to the original asker grinned wide with a smug look on his face, so Alex thought it was time to burst the “I told you so” bubble.
“That said, history should always be remembered, and very little of it is actually worth celebrating. Displaying a Confederate flag is fine in the proper context, when it’s used to teach. History is not for celebrating or remembering the parts we want to. That’s what we already have. We can remember the Confederacy, and the lessons the Civil War taught us, and the lessons that we have still to learn.”
The next professor came in, tapping his watch subtly while catching Alex’s eye.
“And before anyone thinks to feel superior, the most segregated cities in the country, both historically and today, are in the north. The old feelings run strong, and the north, especially, has done little to truly reconcile and integrate diverse populations. Our memorials to history should be complex and complete, as should our curriculua.
“Now, we have to make way for the next lecture. We can continue this somewhere else, if you are gluttons for more.”