Oh, Right, Slavery… My Bad

Posted by: BuellBoy

VA Gov: I Apologize For Leaving Slavery Out Of Confederate History Month

TPM~Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has apologized for not including any mention of slavery in his proclamation declaring April “Confederate History Month” and added an extra clause to the proclamation.

“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,” McDonnell wrote in a statement. “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.”

He also added a clause to the proclamation that declares slavery “led to this war.”

WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history.

McDonnell had taken heat from both critics, such as former governor and current DNC Chair Tim Kaine, and past supporters, such as BET co-founder Sheila Johnson.

In a statement to the Washington Post today, Johnson — who co-chaired McDonnell’s Inaugural Committee this year — condemned McDonnell’s decision to proclaim April as Confederate History Month, calling it an “insensitive disregard of Virginia’s complicated and painful history.”

“The complete omission of slavery from an official government document, which purports to be a call for Virginians to ‘understand’ and ‘study’ their history, is both academically flawed and personally offensive,” she wrote.

Kaine, who as McDonnell’s predecessor skipped issuing a declaration at all, released a statement blasting the governor.

Governor McDonnell’s decision to designate April as Confederate History Month without condemning, or even acknowledging, the pernicious stain of slavery or its role in the war disregards history, is insensitive to the extraordinary efforts of Americans to eliminate slavery and bind the nation’s wounds, and offends millions of Americans of all races and in all parts of our nation,” Kaine said.

A failure to acknowledge the central role of slavery in the Confederacy and deeming insignificant the reprehensible transgression of moral standards of liberty and equality that slavery represented is simply not acceptable in the America of the 21st century,” the DNC chairman added, noting Virginia’s work to elect Black officials in former Gov. Douglas Wilder (D) and casting its electoral votes for President Barack Obama.

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Virginia: Where History is Politics

Time Swampland/Adam Sorenson~Having grown up in the Commonwealth, I’m no stranger to the tensions that inevitably lie at the intersection of Southern history and Southern politics. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, Virginia had a very awkward thing called Lee-Jackson-King Day. Believe it or not, the government decided it would be a good idea to combine the long-standing local holiday celebrating Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, with the new federal holiday honoring Civil Rights icon Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (If you’ve never seen a man dressed in full confederate army uniform belting out “We Shall Overcome,” I can tell you it’s quite the spectacle.) Governor Jim Gilmore mercifully split the holidays in 2000, placing a weekend between the two, but how and when to recognize Confederate history remains a divisive issue.

Republican Governor Bob McDonnell is now breaking from his two predecessors — Democrats Tim Kaine and Mark Warner — by reinstating April as Confederate History Month, this year recognizing the 149th anniversary of Virginia’s secession from the Union on April 17, 1861.

Originally established by George Allen and continued by Gilmore, Confederate History Month has already ignited its fair share of controversy in the Commonwealth. But McDonnell may be further inflaming existing tensions with the language of his official proclamation. His decision to omit any mention of slavery from the document — an issue Gilmore handled by acknowledging African-Americans killed in the war and decrying the practice of bondage — has drawn the ire of Virginia’s NAACP chapter, the legislature’s black caucus and Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first African-American elected governor, among others. McDonnell’s explanation did little to quiet criticism Tuesday when he remarked, “There were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.” Many feel McDonnell is glossing over both an important historical element of the Civil War era and a deeply personal issue. Wilder calls the proclamation “mind-boggling to say the least” and The Richmond Times-Dispatch, which endorsed McDonnell and has a largely sympathetic editorial board, opines: “The inexcusable omission reduces the slaves and their descendants to invisibility once again.”

There has been a longstanding effort in Virginia to better tell the story of American slavery. Wilder first proposed a National Museum of Slavery in 1993, and the project found funding and a home in Fredericksburg amid growing support over the last ten years. But with the economic downturn drying up money, 38 acres of donated land standing mostly empty and a backlog of real estate taxes piling up, the museum’s future home, thought to be worth as much as $7.6 million, is now in danger of seizure and auction. Wilder, who sits on the board of directors and has been the museum’s biggest proponent, has decided to suspend the search for additional funding.

Richmond is a city of conflicting traditions. Not only is it home to today’s statehouse, but it is the former capital of the Confederate States of America and a city with a population that is more than 50 percent African-American. While McDonnell’s decision has drawn praise from some Old South conservatives and groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans, it is ultimately a liability on the national scene. If he hopes to become a leading voice in the Republican party, McDonnell will have to better navigate the contradictions and tensions of Virginia politics.

The GOP will need to broaden its coalition to keep pace with a changing national electorate, and many feel McDonnell’s positive and pragmatic campaign style could one day serve the party well on a larger stage. But proclaiming April Confederate History Month without acknowledging the painful and indelible legacy of bondage does him few favors to that end. “[McDonnell’s] failure to mention slavery was a moral and historical mistake.” Conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru writes. “It is also, I think, a political one.”

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