Read or explain to students:
More than 150 years after the Civil War, there is a new drive to remove Confederate monuments. In April and May 2017, the New Orleans City Council voted to remove four Confederate monuments from the city. This decision came not too long after other cities such as Austin, TX, and Louisville, KY, also voted to remove their statues; additional cities are also considering removing them. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu championed the effort to take down the four Confederate monuments, stating, “It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America; they fought against it. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.”
The national push for the removal of Confederate monuments and names began in 2015 after Dylann Roof, who idolized the Confederate flag, killed nine African-American worshippers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. Racial justice activists have been working for decades on the removal of Confederate monuments and other related symbols. Taking down these monuments has come with significant opposition including pushback, threats against work crews and in some cases, protests and demonstrations.
Students should then view Mayor Landrieu’s Speech on Monument removal.
Teacher will open discussion with students asking the following questions:
- What surprises you about this information?
- What did you learn that you didn’t know before?
- Why is this issue controversial?
Once the class has discussed the topic, give them a handout with the following two opposing opinions:
“These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for. After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.”
— Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans, LA
“I understand the impulse to remove Confederate monuments, which embody some of the most repulsive aspects of the American past. But if we hide them away in a museum, it becomes easier to evade their implications. Let the statues to white supremacy stand, alongside monuments to the brave Americans who challenged it. Anything less lets all of us off the hook.”
— Jonathan Zimmerman, professor of education and history at University of Pennsylvania
(From The New York Times Letters to the Editor: What Should We Do with Confederate Monuments?, May 14, 2017)
Explain that these quotes represent two different points of view about whether to take Confederate monuments down or keep them up.
- Continue class discussion using the following questions:
- Is it easy or difficult to decide where you stand on this issue?
- Do you feel you have enough information to decide where to stand on this issue? Why or why not?
- What more do you want to know about this issue?