Alabama's Confederate Flag Controversy

Abstract

This brief, intriguing case provides students an opportunity to wrestle with managing the kind of symbolic issues that confront policy makers at every level of government, and to reflect on the value orientation that underlies the students' own approach to such issues. In doing so, students can strengthen their capacity to analyze and respond to the symbolic element of many broader public issues.

The story concerns an ongoing controversy, resolved legally in the early 1990s but still generating protest, about flying the Confederate battle flag over the Alabama state capitol building in Montgomery. As the story unfolds, the controversy has intensified, attitudes have become polarized, and the conservative governor is being pressured to take action by black state legislators, while the business community expresses quiet dismay. The case is relevant to the role of interest groups in public deliberation, to the political management of policy decisions, and to the leadership of change. Class discussion can focus on interpreting the intransigence of symbolic issues and examining the perspectives of key actors in the situation, as well as on exploring the pros and cons of the various options available to them, the values that drive a decision maker's choice of action, and problems of implementing any given choice.

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