Mississippi educators plan to talk about controversial Confederate Heritage Month

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Last month Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant announced a controversial decision to declare April to be Confederate Heritage Month.  He did this in the face of renewed pressure to remove the confederate symbol from the state’s flag after the murder of nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, SC by a white supremacist.  Gov. Bryant defended his decision saying he wasn’t the only governor in the state’s history to do so.

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Although teachers aren’t required to put Confederate Heritage Month in their lessons, some plan to tackle the issue head on with their students.  ThinkProgress reports that teachers like Jacob Walker are using the opportunity to talk about the greater dialogue of how the Civil War and the Confederacy are viewed in our society.

“I had some students who were upset about it, saying, ‘Why should we be celebrating this?’ So some students were upset and other students, it didn’t bother them much,” says Walker, who has mostly black students.

“I really don’t have students who complain about the state flag or Confederate flag as much as maybe people think they do, because it’s been there their whole life,” he says.  “I don’t want to say they’ve become numb to it, but it’s something that has just always existed.”

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Walker read the text of the governor’s declaration to his students, noting that it didn’t mention slavery being part of the Confederacy’s past:

“Whereas it is important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation’s past, to gain insight from our mistakes and our successes, and to come to a full understanding that the lessons learned yesterday and today will carry us through tomorrow if we carefully and earnestly strive to understand and appreciate our heritage…”

Darren Grem, assistant professor of history and southern studies at the University of Mississippi, said he’d push his students to examine their feelings about the flag, especially as a symbol of rebellion. “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 divison and perpetual rebellion?’”

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“I just want to push them and ask them, ‘What are you rebelling against? What are you for?’” says Grem.  “And ask them to reflect on that because that sort of rebellion has been couched in a sense of division or winning against others and others losing, so who are those others and are you comfortable with that, their loss?”

Mississippi is the last state to display the confederate symbol on its official flag.