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Update: Va. governor apologizes for saying slavery not ‘significant’

By Daniel Tencer
Wednesday, April 7, 2010 13:45 EDT
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UPDATE: McDonnell apologizes for excluding slavery from proclamation; group that pushed for Confederate History Month ‘has ties to white supremacists’

Following a public outcry, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has apologized for saying that he omitted any mention of slavery from his Confederate History Month proclamation because he wanted to focus on issues that were “significant” to Virginians.

“The proclamation issued by this Office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission,” McDonnell said in a statement released Wednesday night. “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.”

Lee Hockstader at the Washington Post opines that, with McDonnell’s latest statement, “there are now two proclamations — one that glorifies the Confederacy, the other that wallows in Virginia’s historical guilt. (In addition to being evil, vicious, etc., slavery, said the governor in proclamation no. 2, ‘has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation’).”

Meanwhile, blogger Blue Texan at FireDogLake reports that the group that lobbied McDonnell’s office to reinstate Confederate History Month in Virginia has been tied to the white supremacist movement.

A report at the Washington Post notes that the event was brought back by McDonnell at the insistence of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “SCV leaders have long been tied to segregation and white supremacy.”

Blue Texan cites a spring, 2010, SCV newsletter that declares, “[I]f Barack Obama should be elected President, he would be extremely anti-white and would demand reparations for slavery and press hard for affirmative action to the degree that it would hurt young whites who were seeking jobs or admission to college and graduate schools.”

ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS BELOW

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is being accused of historical revisionism after reinstating the state’s controversial Confederate History Month and declaring that the event won’t focus on slavery because the issue is not “significant” enough in Virginia.

“There were any number of aspects” to the Civil War, McDonnell said, explaining why he left slavery out of the proclamation announcing Confederate History Month. “Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.”

His comments were published at the Washington Post.

The Post reports that both Virginia’s black legislative caucus and the local chapter of the NAACP are upset with McDonnell’s move.

“Governor McDonnell’s proclamation was offensive and offered a disturbing revision of the Civil War and the brutal era that followed,” state delegate Kenneth Cooper Alexander, head of the Legislative Black Caucus, told the Post. “Virginia has worked hard to move beyond the very things for which Governor McDonnell seems nostalgic.”

The Virginia NAACP plans to hold an emergency meeting this Saturday to discuss “a series of problems it has had with McDonnell since he was sworn into office in January,” the Post reports.

McDonnell’s assertion that slavery doesn’t qualify as “significant” — at least for Virginians — has provoked criticism and more than a little correcting of McDonnell’s historical facts.

Patrik Jonsson at the Christian Science Monitor and Robert Mackey at the Huffington Post point out that Virginia was at the epicenter of the battle over slavery.

“This is the state that housed the Confederate government in Richmond and where most of the Civil War, the country’s bloodiest campaign, was fought,” writes Jonsson.

By leaving out slavery, McDonnell’s proclamation “ignores the 490,865 African-Americans who were slaves in 1860 Virginia, and whose Confederate heritage was the lash, servitude, and a century of virtual slavery after 1865,” writes Mackey.

Mackey suggests that McDonnell should replace Confederate History Month with a “Civil War Heritage Month,” which should “encourage the study of not just Stonewall Jackson or Robert E. Lee, but George Thomas, the tens of thousands of white and black Union volunteers from Virginia, and let it address the plight of the slaves, the problems of the free black population, and the atrocity of post-Reconstruction civil rights violations in Virginia.”

Jonsson suggests that McDonnell’s plan could backfire politically. Confederate History Month “is bringing back ideas and symbols that many Americans – including many Southerners – find offensive and divisive. It could derail efforts to win favor among Democrats, not to mention Southern blacks, and it could drive a cultural wedge into the Republican Party as it looks for ways to win in November,” he writes.

Virginia’s Confederate History Month debuted under Governor George Allen, a Republican, in 1997, causing “a national uproar,” the Post notes. Allen’s proclamation made no mention of slavery, but his successor, Republican James. S. Gilmore, added language referencing slavery in his own proclamation.

The month-long historic event was then dropped entirely by two subsequent Democratic governors, and had been absent from Virginia for the past eight years.

 
 
 
 
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