(April 7) — Celebrating the Confederacy is no longer a lost cause.
For nearly a decade, Virginia has quietly declined to mark its secession from the union. But on Tuesday — days before the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War — Gov. Bob McDonnell declared April as Confederate History Month in Virginia for the first time since 2001.
The proclamation, written in formal tones and posted on the Republican governor’s Web site, declares Confederate history something “all Virginians can appreciate,” but critics noted it fails to mention slavery.
“It is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth’s shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present,” the proclamation says.
Among civil rights groups and bloggers, there was disgust and astonishment.
After almost 10 years in which the state’s Democratic governors successfully ignored the April 11 anniversary of the outbreak of the war — and two years into the nation’s first black presidency — many are struggling to understand why such a blatantly antiquated tradition has risen again.
L. Douglas Wilder, the first black to be elected Virginia governor, called it “mind-boggling to say the least.” He told The Washington Post that “it’s one thing to sound a cause of rallying a base,” but “quite another to distort history.” The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and the Virginia NAACP condemned the proclamation.
Others said it was simply a nod to McDonnell’s conservative supporters. “It helps him with his base,” Mark Rozell, a political scientist at George Mason University, told the Post. “These are people who support state’s rights and oppose federal intrusion.”
McDonnell said the proclamation was simply a way to boost tourism on the eve of the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.
He said he chose not to include any reference to slavery because “there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues,” he told the Post. “But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.”
And that’s exactly the historical posturing that’s left some with a bad taste. The critics expressed surprise that McDonnell, who fashioned himself as the “Jobs Governor” during his election campaign last fall, would embrace such a potent, racially charged symbol.
“It’s difficult to understand why Mr. McDonnell, who in his inaugural address paid eloquent homage to former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the grandson of slaves, and spoke movingly of slavery’s evils, would now trade in such glaring historical omissions,” a Washington Post editorial asserted. “Charitably, we might suspect sloppy staff work; less charitably, we’d guess he is pandering to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that lionizes the Confederacy and pressed for the proclamation.”
On its Web site, the Sons of Confederate Veterans refers to the Civil War as the “Second American Revolution.”
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