I’ve often been told that, as a Northerner (more like a Westerner), I just don’t “get” the attachment of Southerners to the Confederacy — and I confess that I don’t, especially when it comes to official recognition of it by Southern states. Newly-elected Republican Governor Bob McDonnell reversed eight years of refusals by Democrats to proclaim an official Confederate History Month in the state, which has restarted a debate over slavery, racism, and the kind of associations to states rights issues that the GOP hardly needs at the moment while fighting a federal health-care mandate:
Reviving an observance that many thought had been buried eight years ago, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has declared April “Confederate History Month” in Virginia. Maybe it’s not like firing on Ft. Sumter, but it’s close.
One of two Republicans elected to statehouses last year in races widely seen as a referendum on Barack Obama‘s presidency, McDonnell said he is restoring the commemoration because it is important to study history. In fact, Virginia and other states are preparing commemorations in 2011 to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.
But in McDonnell’s proclamation announcing the commemoration, he never mentions slavery — or the 500,000 slaves who constituted one-fourth of Virginia’s population and cheered the Union soldiers to victory. Instead, the governor declares Virginians fought “for their homes and communities and Commonwealth” and that “all Virginians” must appreciate the state’s “shared” history and the Confederacy’s sacrifices.
As a history buff myself, I agree that it’s important to study history, but that doesn’t require a Confederacy Appreciation Month, which is what this sounds like. McDonnell could have broadened the perspective to a Civil War History Month, which would have allowed for all of the issues in the nation’s only armed rebellion to be studied. This approach seems needlessly provocative and almost guaranteed to create problems for Republicans in Virginia and across the country. It might have a short term effect of strengthening McDonnell’s attachment to his base, which didn’t appear to be threatened at all in the first place.
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Update (AP): McDonnell climbs down:
The proclamation issued by this Office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission. The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed. The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War. Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation. In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly approved a formal statement of “profound regret” for the Commonwealth’s history of slavery, which was the right thing to do.
Full statement at the link.