Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell took a lot of (well-justified) heat back in March when he stepped into the long-running controversy over Virginia’s Confederate History month by not only officially marking the event, but also initially signing a resolution that completely ignored the role of slavery in the Civil War or the Confederacy itself. He got hit pretty hard by the national press, and by me:
I am writing to express my profound disappointment your decision earlier this month to issue a proclamation designating April to be Confederate History Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Speaking as someone who voted for you last year based on the campaign you ran, this is not the image of the Old Dominion that I want to see spread across the nation, and I think it’s unfortunate that you choose to issue a proclamation that has resulted in just that.
First, it was an egregious mistake to fail to include any reference to the role that the institution of slavery played in the run up to the Civil War and in life in Virginia under the Confederacy. As you said in the amended proclamation that you issued yesterday afternoon “the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights.” While you corrected this mistake yesterday, it is disturbing to me that you, or someone in your office, apparently considered the very reason for the Civil War to be irrelevant to a proclamation about the Civil War.
More important than the omission of slavery, though, is the very idea of having a “Confederate History Month” in the 21st Century. It’s worth noting that in his Cornerstone Speech in March 1861, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens called slavery and the subjugation of an entire race to be the cornerstone upon which the Confederate States of America were founded. Setting aside a day to commemorate such a government, or even just Virginia’s involvement in that government, is not in fitting with the image that Virginia, one of the birth places of the American Revolution and home to some of it’s greatest Presidents, should be projecting to the rest of the United States and the world.
At the time, I and other Virginia bloggers, suggested an alternative:
Instead of marking Confederate History Month, the Commonwealth should designate April of each year, and April is appropriate because it is the month in which Virginia’s involvement in the war both began and ended, as Virginia Civil War History Month.
Instead of just marking the state’s association with a nation with a checkered history, such a month could be a method of remembering the pivotal historic role that the Old Dominion, and it’s citizens, played in the most pivotal event in the history of America. Virginia was, after all, the site of more Civil War battles than any other state, including both the first and the final battles of that war. Moreover, such a month could also serve to remember the Virginian’s who fought for, or otherwise supported, the Union while living in enemy territory; including those Virginian’s who decided to secede from their home state altogether.
Virginia Civil War History Month could serve to remember the Virginian’s who fought and died for both sides during our nation’s worst time without the taint of honoring a regime created to preserve the institution of human bondage.
Who’s with me ?
Well, I’m not going claim any credit for it because I’m just a humble blogger in Warrenton, but that’s essentially what Governor McDonnell is going to do:
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell announced Friday that he will declare next April “Civil War in Virginia” month, rather than “Confederate History Month,” as he once again expressed regret for a proclamation earlier this year that omitted a reference to slavery’s role in the war.
Speaking at a scholarly conference on slavery and race held at Norfolk State University, McDonnell called on Virginians to remember the war with a solemn spirit of racial unity.
He called April’s proclamation an “error of haste and not of heart,” a misstep by an administration only a few months in office.
“My major and unacceptable omission of slavery disappointed and hurt a lot of people – myself included,” he said. “And it is an error that will be fixed.”
In welcoming remarks at Friday’s conference, part of Virginia’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, McDonnell promised that next year he will issue a proclamation that acknowledges the broad sweep of the war in Virginia. He said it will be written to remember “all Virginians” – free and enslaved, and those who fought for both sides.
“One hundred and fifty years is long enough for Virginia to fight the Civil War,” he said, drawing laughs and then appreciative applause from the 1,600 attendees of the seminar, titled “Race, Slavery and Civil War: The Tough Stuff of American History and Memory.”
An inclusive gubernatorial proclamation will ensure that “people across the world will understand that Virginia has the capacity to grow and to change and to acknowledge truth,” said state Sen. Yvonne B. Miller (D-Norfolk), a member of Virginia’s legislative black caucus.
Good for you Governor, you’re doing the right thing. Virginia left the Confederacy almost 150 years ago, it’s time to leave that four year long mistake behind.