by Kate Snyder, original image above courtesy Edward Stojakovic (modified)
As part of a growing national movement to remove painful reminders of the country’s history of pro-slavery propaganda from public spaces, including schools, NEA members passed an action item at the 2015 Representative Assembly in support of the removal of the Confederate battle flag from public schools. Since then we have developed model legislation and school board resolutions to help state affiliates and local educators drive that effort across the country.
“As educators we know how symbols of hatred- whether targeting race or religion- impact our students. Whether it is a swastika spray painted on the school wall or a confederate flag flying on public grounds, the effect is divisive and deeply painful. We cannot condone their presence and must take action to ensure all students feel safe and able to learn in our schools.”
– Kevin F. Gilbert, Ed.D., Teacher Leadership/Special Projects Coordinator, Clinton Public School District, Executive Committee, National Education Association.
The horrific violence that shocked a nation and sparked a national dialogue on this issue was back in the news this month as the federal trial date was set for Dylann Roof, the young white man charged with killing nine African American worshippers in their church in Charleston, SC in June of 2015. Roof was photographed holding the Confederate flag in images on his website.
Our history and current affairs both negate the argument that the Confederate flag is nothing more than a symbol of Southern Heritage. As racism and segregation gripped the nation in the 20th century, the Confederate flag became a divisive and violent emblem of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and white supremacist groups. It was also the symbol of the States’ Rights Democratic Party that formed in 1948 to oppose civil-rights platforms of the Democratic Party.
Today the flag remains an emblem of the KKK, the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (which has referred to African Americans as “a retrograde species of humanity”), and the League of the South (which advocates for a second Southern secession and a Christian theocratic society dominated by European Americans).
Following the tragedy in Charleston last year, South Carolina passed legislation to ban the confederate flag from government buildings and the image from being worn by students in public schools. States like Illinois, Tennessee and Virginia have also supported efforts to remove the confederate flag from schools and end state sponsored use of the flag.
However, the struggle continues in states like Mississippi, where the legislature refused to consider a redesign of the state flag – which features the Confederate flag as an element. Educators are proud to stand at the forefront of that struggle.