SPLC’s Whose Heritage? Report: A Teaching Opportunity

Schools, monuments and statues across the country pay homage to the Confederacy. Educators can use a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center to help teach the history behind these public fixtures—and how they spread throughout the South and beyond.  The report, entitled “Whose Heritage?”offers data and context that should inform and supplement any lessons on the Civil War, its legacy and the through-line of white supremacist ideology in the United States. A timeline, for example, illustrates the spike in Confederate-dedicated monuments that occurs in tandem with civil rights advancements for black people, or during moments of intense racial strife throughout recent U.S. history. An interactive map points to the geographic locations of these public homages, with monuments and schools in Union states like New York, Pennsylvania and California begging the titular question: Whose heritage is this, really? And what purpose were these symbols of the Confederacy meant to serve?

The data and brief history lessons in this report help answer these questions and counter Lost Cause myths—myths commonly held by, and passed down to, students. As calls to remove or rename symbols of the Confederacy continue to stir controversy, educators can resist the urge to avoid this topic and, instead, teach the hard history and motivation behind these monuments and public symbols. This report supplies a foundation for learning and fodder for lessons.

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