Slavery vs. Confederate History Month: Ripe for Political Point- Scoring

By Jonsson, Patrik | The Christian Science Monitor, April 8, 2010 | Go to article overview

Slavery vs. Confederate History Month: Ripe for Political Point- Scoring


Jonsson, Patrik, The Christian Science Monitor


After restoring Confederate History Month in Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell amended his proclamation to decry slavery. Both the left and the right have used the occasion to score political points, sometimes twisting the historical record to their own ends.

To many Southerners, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's decision to reinstate Confederate History Month is simply a correction of the historical prism through which contemporary America sees the war that nearly broke the United States in two.

To many other Americans, however, Governor McDonnell's proclamation this week is a tip of the hat not just to the Old South, but also to the institution of slavery that defined life in the colonies as far back as 1607, until the Confederacy's demise with Gen. Robert Lee's surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.

But both sides, rather than ferret out the multilayered truths and painful lessons of a bloody Civil War, are engaging in a tactic New York Times columnist Gail Collins called a "miracle of obfuscation," in which the battlefield is primarily the political arena.

"Today, [people] like to shop around through history selectively, to find a position in history that reflects their passions of today," says Lacy Ford, a University of South Carolina historian and author of the recently published "Deliver Us From Evil: The slavery question in the Old South." "But that's a very dangerous thing to do. History properly studied is the great enemy of political correctness and present-mindedness."

After facing widespread criticism, McDonnell late Wednesday amended the original proclamation to include a paragraph about slavery. It now notes "it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice...."

"We cannot avoid our past," the governor said in a separate statement.

Today's aversion to all things Confederate, so evident among groups like the NAACP, stems less from the dynamics of secession and more from the way that Southern governors in the 1950s and '60s such as Alabama's George Wallace would, in effect, stick the Confederate battle flag in the eyes of the civil rights movement as white Southerners attempted to preserve segregation, says Dr. …

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