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You’ve got to hand it to Governor Bob McDonnell; he knows how to put his finger in the wind and discern the prevailing political direction, even when it runs counter to his ultraconservative instincts.
It took the governor only about 24 hours to back off his original decision to issue a “Confederate History Month” proclamation that included no mention of slavery. Truth be told, that’s just how most of the Modern Day Johnny Rebs wanted it. They don’t like to discuss slavery when they’re engrossed in their usual defense of their Confederate “heritage.”
But once McDonnell put his original proclamation out there (or maybe we should call it his “pre-apology proclamation”), it didn’t take long for the political realities to sink in. Let’s face it: celebrating the Confederacy - even the supposed “history” of it - always means something different to blacks than it does to the few remaining Southern whites who glorify it.
McDonnell found that out quickly, and he reacted just as quickly once the criticism from civil rights groups and former governor Doug Wilder got his attention. Then - to his credit - he apologized. That’s right; he apologized, amended the document, and did so with a statement almost unprecedented in its moral condemnation of slavery from a conservative white Republican governor of a state that once belonged to the Confederacy.
Some of its words are worth repeating here. “It is important for all Virginians,” he said, “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…”
The institution of slavery led to this war….well, you’d still get some arguments on that from some of the Modern Day Johnny Rebs, who very much like to deny that. But it’s the truth. Again, all credit goes to McDonnell for saying out loud what a handful of white people still can’t stand to admit.
As another example of that mentality, I’ve noticed in the very pages of this paper how some people insist upon referring to the “Civil War” - as true history properly renders it - as “The War Between the States.”
That’s nothing more than an attempt by Confederate sympathizers to render the conflict as just a battle between individual entities (states) that had no nationhood, rather than what real history knows it to be: a fight among two factions that existed within one nation.
At any rate, the final result settled the whole matter of nationhood, didn’t it? Calling the Civil War “The War Between the States” doesn’t change that, either.
McDonnell’s apology said it best: “The failure to include any reference to slavery (in the proclamation) was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed.”
Isn’t it finally, finally time that we just put a stop to all this nonsense? There should be no more glorification of the Confederacy. It was built upon two of the worst ideas that ever existed in our otherwise great land: slavery and secession.
However anyone tries to twist history, one fact remains: the Confederacy was dedicated to slavery and fought a war to preserve it. That truth alone justified its fate. We were meant to be one great nation from east to west and from north to south.
If nations can truly commit sins, ours committed one when it embarked upon slavery. No one, regardless of where they were born or what their ancestors did, should honor that in the 21st century.
Congratulations to Governor Bob McDonnell for finally getting it right. Let’s hope others can learn from his example.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.