Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Quit Digging

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on January 17, 2011

Last spring, the then-new governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell (left), issued a Confederate History Month proclamation that had been prepared and urged on him by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The proclamation, unlike others that had preceded it, omitted any reference to the institution of slavery as a factor in the coming of the war. Criticism of the proclamation was swift and loud, and Governor McDonnell quickly withdrew the first one and replaced it with another, one that recognized the role slavery played in the war and referred to the practice as an “abomination.” Perhaps more important, McDonnell later announced that, in 2011, Confederate History Month will be replaced with a wider-reaching, more inclusive effort, dubbed Civil War in Virginia Month.

Now Brag Bowling, spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has announced that the SCV will hold a press conference Tuesday “to outline the ‘ongoing failures’ ” of the governor “to deal with a variety of history and heritage issues in Virginia.” B. Frank Earnest, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, went further:

The Civil War was a defining moment in our history and, as we enter its sesquicentennial year, it is fitting we honor the memories of the men and women on both sides whose sacrifices are part of our heritage. However, to put it candidly, under Governor Bob McDonnell, Virginia’s history has become political football.

We call on Governor McDonnell to remember that he is the governor of all Virginians, that he honor the memory of those who died in defense of our commonwealth, and that he rethink … his position and honor the forthcoming petition which will begin today.

The SCV will also use the press conference to call out former Governor George Allen (of “macaca” infamy), a likely 2012 Senate candidate, for distancing himself from them while serving in the Senate. Allen’s actions have been a sore point for Bowling and Earnest for years, as noted in this 2006 Washington Post story:

“What I was slow to appreciate and wish I had understood much sooner,” Allen told a black audience last month, “is that [the Confederate Battle Flag] . . . is, for black Americans, an emblem of hate and terror, an emblem of intolerance and intimidation.”

“He’s apologizing to others, certainly he should apologize to us as well,” said B. Frank Earnest Sr., the Virginia commander of the confederate group at a news conference. “We’re all aware, ourselves included, of the statements that got him into this. The infamous macaca statement. He’s using our flag to wipe the muck from his shoes that he’s now stepped in.”

Over the years, Allen has been a darling of the confederate group. As governor, he designated April as Confederate History Month. He has displayed the battle flag in his home as part of what he said is a flag collection. And his high school yearbook picture shows him wearing a Confederate flag pin.

But the senator has been distancing himself from those symbols as he pursues reelection and considers a bid for the presidency in 2008.

In the past several years, he has co-sponsored legislation condemning the lynching of blacks and has promised to work on similar legislation apologizing for slavery. He recently said of the Confederate flag that “the symbols you use matter because of how others may take them.”

Allen’s recent statements didn’t sit well with the SCV. They accused him yesterday of trying to appeal to liberal voters with his new position.

“The denunciation of the flag to score political points is anathema to our organization,” said Brag Bowling, a former past commander of the group.

I have no idea how Bowling and Earnest can argue that Bob McDonnell “is the governor of all Virginians,” while at the same time being opposed to his decision to expand his state’s commemoration of the war to encompass all Virginians — descendants of Confederate veterans, Virginians loyal to the Union, enslaved African Americans, free blacks, and the millions of modern-day Virginians who have no Civil War connection to that state at all. Nor do I see why they want to go after George Allen, unless their long-simmering disdain for the man outweighs their presumed desire to oust the incumbent, Jim Webb (D). Tuesday’s press conference sounds less like a well-considered statement of policy than the latest tantrum of an increasingly insular group, one focused so closely on its own resentments and perceived insults that it’s lost touch with the wider, general public it seeks to reach out to.

Quit digging, folks.

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5 Responses

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  1. TheRaven said, on January 17, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    “We’re all aware, ourselves included, of the statements that got him into this. The infamous macaca statement. He’s using our flag to wipe the muck from his shoes that he’s now stepped in.”

    I stand corrected.

    The Confederate flag has a modern use after all.

  2. emilylhauser said, on January 17, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    When people (and currently I can think of a few other examples) dig their own holes, it winds up being much more instructive than when the likes of me try to dig the holes for them.

    The SCV tell their truth, and they tell it, and they tell it some more, and I do believe that the more they talk, the fewer supporters they have. I would be only too happy if these folks would, in fact, keep digging.

    Indeed, it was the SCV’s effort to shape the narrative that led to the first statement, the retraction of the statement, and the subsequent evolution of Bob McDonnell, and all of the attendant attention to the issue. Yep, I have to say: I hope they keep digging.

  3. Nora Carrington said, on January 18, 2011 at 3:19 am

    Andy: I was born in DC in 1955 [Andrews Air Force Base], but was a resident of Virginia from ’55 to ’58, and from ’60 until ’73 ['62-'64 in Germany due to my US Army father's assignment there], and off and on again between ’80 and ’84.

    Keep us posted on what we can do to support McDonnell. I’ve been heartened by his about-face, which as I posted at TNC, seems sincere and thoughtful.

  4. Craig Swain said, on January 18, 2011 at 9:13 am

    “Nor do I see why they want to go after George Allen, unless their long-simmering disdain for the man outweighs their presumed desire to oust the incumbent, Jim Webb (D).”

    I think this is where the study of the Civil War and the memory of the war should pause. I’ve lived in VA only long enough to vote in the Allen-Webb contest. While many would like to interpret the results of that election strictly upon the “macaca” incident, there were, and remain, many underlying issues that escape the national coverage.

    In many minds, Allen was not conservative enough. In some local papers, letters have called him “our McCain,” referring to the moderate attitude of the last GOP presidential candidate. What I’d submit is the sentiment of Virginia’s SCVers toward Allen is much a “cut off my nose to spite my face” stance. And goes beyond just long-standing. There is a deep seated (inherited comes to mind) dislike for the Republican party, in any form. Which is not to say that is an embrace of the Democratic party in its current form.


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