I should add, “from our governor” to the title of this post. For those of you who live outside Virginia, you may or may not have heard, in a grand example of what we Southerners call “back-sliding,” Governor Bob McDonnell hath declared April is now Confederate History Month.
I very much doubt it was Gov. McDonnell’s intention to cause any offense, and the proclamation mostly consists of platitudes about the importance of studying history. But the failure to mention slavery was a moral and historical mistake…
But this is more than an “oops.” It’s a direct attempt to appeal to people who believe there is something worthy in the “cause” of the Confederacy. Comments on Ponnuru’s post attest to those fallacious beliefs:
Yes, slavery existed. Yes ending it was a difficult task for our country. Yes some people fought to sustain that wicked institution. Given all of that I still think that America needs to work toward healing EVERYBODY. Right now white southerns are being marginalized by the folks on the left. I see repeated slurs and slanders hurled in their general direction. It is just plain wrong. Will a confederate history month solve that? Not by itself but it is long past time that we cleansed the wounds, bound them up and began this final phase of healing. so what about the much maligned white people living in the south? Are they not worthy of such healing? We’ve got an out and out reparations advocate about to be confirmed to the ninth circuit.
During Black History Month who is recognized besides blacks?
Let me again state on this blog, I am a white Southern woman. I have, at times, harbored bitterness in my heart about the politics of our day. I have felt left out, ignored by our leaders, and downright angry about decisions made by policymakers at all levels of our government. At no point in those times, would a Confederate History Month have done anything to alleviate my grievances. It would have done as it does now, it inflames my grievances.
I would like to tell my governor (a professed brother in Christ, mind you), do not presume to pander to me or my kin by establishing a month-long celebration of everything that has ever been wrong with humanity. The painful, shameful, and still-nagging history of slavery cannot be swept aside by an acknowledgment that “Yes, slavery existed.” It did not exist. It was perpetrated. It was propped up, established in law, and defended in war by generations of people who directly and indirectly benefited from a labor force created by trading in flesh.
Gov. McDonnell wants to remember the Confederacy, but ignore slavery. This is especially dangerous in an environment where discussions about slavery fall into the old trap of, “can’t we just let bygones be bygones.” We want to toss aside the atrocities of the period, but celebrate the romance of war, from the perspective of the people who rightly lost that war. We want to leave slavery in the past, but declare the [old] South has risen again.
There is an insidious root to this week’s proclamation. Some of my white brothers and sisters earnestly believe that they have been marginalized by some sort of “reverse racism.” They feel they have been robbed of dignity and respect. And on that point, I would agree; they have been robbed. Holding tightly to a moral evil will steal your civility. It can hold your children hostage and ransom their righteous inheritance. Honoring hatred and grasping for power will make you a slave to all manner of unholiness.
So tonight, I ask our readers and friends to consider taking two actions:
- Pray for our leaders. In the midst of the tug-of-war between politics and ethics, many times our leaders fail. While it’s particularly troubling when those leaders espouse our shared faith, I am reminded of the importance of prayer on their behalf. The Holy Spirit has a more personal and more constant influence than I can have over a fellow believer, so I’m going to pull a Julia Sugarbaker and offer something like this up:
One of the things that I pray for, Mr. Brickett, is that people with power will get good sense, and that people with good sense will get power… and that the rest of us will be blessed with the patience and the strength to survive the people like you in the meantime!
- Communicate with the governor’s office. Let him know, politely and firmly, that this is a mistake and then encourage him to rescind the proclamation with a dignified apology to those who have been hurt by it. (This may seem like a long shot, but if we all commit to both praying and confronting, who knows!)
***Update: Gov. McDonnell has issued this press release today in response to public opposition to his initial proclamation. Judge for yourselves if this new addition goes far enough (I, personally don’t). Resources for communicating with the governor’s office follow:
Statement of Governor Bob McDonnell
RICHMOND – Governor Bob McDonnell issued the following statement today regarding the proclamation of Confederate History Month in the Commonwealth:
“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.
When I signed the Proclamation designating February as Black History Month, and as I look out my window at the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, I am reminded that, even 150 years later, Virginia’s past is inextricably part of our present. The Confederate History Month proclamation issued was solely intended to promote the study of our history, encourage tourism in our state in advance of the 150th Anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, and recognize Virginia’s unique role in the story of America. The Virginia General Assembly unanimously approved the establishment of a Sesquicentennial American Civil War Commission to prepare for and commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the War, in order to promote history and create recognition programs and activities.
As Virginians we carry with us both the burdens and the blessings of our history. Virginia history undeniably includes the fact that we were the Capitol of the Confederacy, the site of more battlefields than any other state, and the home of the signing of the peace agreement at Appomattox. Our history is perhaps best encapsulated in a fact I noted in my Inaugural Address in January: The state that served as the Capitol of the Confederacy was also the first in the nation to elect an African-American governor, my friend, L. Douglas Wilder. America’s history has been written in Virginia. We cannot avoid our past; instead we must demand that it be discussed with civility and responsibility. During the commemoration of the Civil War over the next four years, I intend to lead an effort to promote greater understanding and harmony in our state among our citizens.”
In addition the Governor announced that the following language will be added to the Proclamation:
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…
**This section will be added between the 3rd and 4th Sections**
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Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, Virginia 23218
Office of the Governor
Patrick Henry Building, 3rd Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
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