Should Schools Linked to Confederate Leaders Rename or Educate Students?

confederateIn the wake of the racially motivated shootings in Charleston, SC many demands have risen to remove the Confederate flag from the state building in Charleston and other places. Activists have continued their demands to remove statues of Confederate Civil War figures, rename military bases, bridges, roads and even schools bearing their names. Should nearly 200 schools connected to the Confederate flag controversy be forced to change names or simply educate the students?

The Confederate flag has long been viewed by many as a symbol of white supremacy, slavery, and racism. Amazon, Walmart, eBay and Sears has stopped selling the Confederate flag, political leaders in North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Maryland have removed the symbol from state license plates and Alabama has removed it from state capitol grounds. Although these acts have been noted as commendable, what continues to perplex the multitude is how long things remained the same with no effective pressure on South Carolina and elsewhere.

The question many are now asking is, “How far should the Confederate flag fiasco go?” Removing the flag from open view will not whitewash history, so where is the line drawn? It took the massacre of nine black churchgoers for many people to finally renounce the flag and its vile symbolism. But what about all the other Confederate associations such as nearly 2000 K-12 schools which have been named after Confederate leaders?

In 2013, Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in Florida knew it could not erase history but decided it was time to remove the name of the Ku Klux Klan’s Imperial Wizard from their school. The school board for Duval County felt it was unfair to make African-American students attend a school which had been named in honor of a man who slaughtered and terrorized their ancestors.

The school board denied the initial request made in 2007, however, the community decided to revisit the idea when racial tension soared after the killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin. Renaming the school to Westside High School did not solve Florida’s problems but it served as a step in the direction of healing. The community knew history would not be erased but for far too long the name of this school had been a sore reminder of the past instead of what the community was fighting for, which is unity, equality and respect.

Although this proved successful in Florida, there will be many school boards which will not favor the idea. Should the Confederate flag controversy only lead to changing the names of schools or could this serve as an opportunity to educate students? If local school boards deny requests in favor of a name change, schools can opt to make this a teachable moment which involves the students’ active participation.

As the debate surrounding the Confederate flag continues, it has now centered in the direction of nearly 200 schools. At this moment in history, no one should be more invested in the debate than a student who would be forever connected to the name of a Confederate leader for the rest of their lives. Students could learn the history about the person whose name is on their school buildings, uniforms and ultimately their graduation certificate.

Another option would be to invite community leaders, historians and living family members of the school’s namesake. They could share perspectives in order for each side to gain a deeper understanding of the impact the Confederate leader made in history. Changing the name of the school may not be a viable option, however, an educational experience could enlighten each party and teach them how to disagree agreeably.

The backlash against the public use of Confederate flags has built quickly after nine African-Americans were gunned down inside a South Carolina church. In response to the hate crime, many affiliations have disassociated with the Confederate flag. There are dozens of elementary, middle and high schools that bear the names of prominent Confederate leaders, should they rename or educate the students?

Opinion by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)


U.S. News: Taking Down That Flag Is Just the Start
Guardian Liberty Voice: School Can’t Erase History Removes KKK Leader

Photo Credits:

Top Image Courtesy of Micah A. Ponce – Flickr License
Featured Image Courtesy of Ron Cogswell – Flickr License

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