Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Old Dominion Shows the Way

Posted in Leadership, Media, Memory by Andy Hall on September 24, 2010

Bloggers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Kevin Levin both call attention to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s announcement Friday that next spring, Confederate History Month will be replaced by Civil War in Virginia Month. This is not only good news, but the governor also chose to make his announcement at the highest-profile venue possible, the 2010 Signature Conference of the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission.

The legacies of the Civil War still have the potential to divide us. But there is a central lesson of that conflict that must bond us together today. Until the Civil War, the founding principle that all people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights was dishonored by slavery. Slavery was an evil and inhumane practice which degraded people to property, defied the eternal truth that all people are created in the image and likeness of God, and left a stain on the soul of this state and nation. For this to be truly one nation under God required the abolition of slavery from our soil. Until the Emancipation Proclamation was issued and the Civil War ended, our needed national reconciliation could not begin. It is still a work in progress.

150 years is long enough for Virginia to fight the Civil War.

“Now, on the eve of this anniversary, is a time for us to approach this period with a renewed spirit of goodwill, reverently recalling its losses, eagerly embracing its lessons, and celebrating the measure of unity we have achieved as a diverse nation united by the powerful idea of human freedom.

A modern Virginia has emerged from her past strong, vibrant and diverse. Now, a modern Virginia will remember that past with candor, courage and conciliation. . . .

It’s time to discuss openly how we as Americans, black, white and brown can promote greater reconciliation and trust and greater access to the American Dream for all, so that there is more peace in our hearts and homes, schools and neighborhoods.

This speech is direct, comprehensive, and eloquent. In this address, Bob McDonnell acknowledges and embraces the fundamental truth that so many are unwilling to — that one cannot separate Confederate history from the Civil War, nor the Civil War from this nation’s long, dark legacy of slavery. They are all aspects of the same heritage we share, inextricably intertwined and knotted together.

I have been critical of McDonnell’s original Confederate History Month proclamation — “tone deaf” is about the most charitable thing one can say about it — but today’s remarks really do clean the slate. And while the governor certainly caught a lot of (well-deserved) hell for that earlier document, I’m not going to take a cynical view of his motivations in reversing course here. As Coates said, “You can not ask politicians to do the right thing, and then attack them for doing it.” Amen.

Good for Bob McDonnell. Good for Virginia. Good for the South, and good for our nation. I hope that in this area, has it has so often throughout American history, Virginia sets an example for others to follow.

Added Monday, September 27: Via TPMMuckraker, the SCV responds to McDonnell’s move:

“Our organization is terribly disappointed by this action,” [Virginia SCV Division Commander Brag] Bowling told TPMmuckraker. “[McDonnell] succumbed to his critics, people who don’t support him anyway. And the vast majority of citizens of Virginia support Confederate History Month.”

He said he had spoken with the governor’s office and told them the same thing. He said “Civil War In Virginia Month” is a poor substitute.

“Nobody’s ever been able to reason with me and tell me why we’re honoring Yankees in Virginia,” Bowling said. “The only northerners in Virginia were the ones that came to Virginia and killed thousands of Virginia citizens when they invaded.”

I suppose it’s too much to ask for the SCV to actually respond to the detailed and specific content of McDonnell’s address; instead Bowling drags out the same tired dog-whistles about Yankees and “invasion.” Seriously, folks: get yourselves some new talking points.

Full text of the governor’s address after the jump.