When I first heard of McDonnell’s statement turning April into ‘Confederate History Month’, all I could think was, “Really? Is that the biggest thing you have to think about as governor?” If only other governors could be so lucky!
While managing to dress it up with lots of pretty words and euphemisms, McDonnell’s proclamation was still a rash, and even unnecessary move. Making such a statement is extremely alienating for a huge portion of people in this state, like African-Americans and people living here from the northern states; forgetting to include slavery does not help.
First of all, the worry that Virginians will forget their historically rich past, especially the Civil War, is greatly exaggerated. Being from a state that could learn a lesson on remembering history from its Virginian peers, I am already acutely aware that Virginia is below the Mason-Dixon Line. Also, I think most Virginians know on which side their state fought during the Civil War.
Furthermore, the state of Virginia has many reminders of its history from that period already. From statues of confederate heroes in Richmond, to names like our nearby Jefferson Davis Highway, there are plenty of reminders of its Confederate heritage. Is it really necessary to top the cake with one more?
In his proclamation, McDonnell called for Confederate history to “not be forgotten, but instead… studied, understood and remembered.” This statement is rather vague (as is everything politicians say), but it is also irrelevant since there are already institutions, like national battlefields and museums (of which we have several in the immediate vicinity), that preserve, study and ‘remember’ the civil war quite fervently. It would seem that McDonnell is just trying to steal their ‘civil-war-remembering’ thunder by making it sound like he thought of this clever idea first.
While this may seem like just a simple recognition of Virginia’s past, for McDonnell, it could have repercussions on his political future. With all his talk about ‘remembering’, it is pretty embarrassing that he originally ‘forgot’ to mention that slavery was a significant factor for Confederate history in his proclamation.
This was a mistake that President Obama called “an unacceptable omission.” Such an omission will not be quickly forgotten, and it may make some voters think twice about voting for him. African Americans, a demographic that McDonnell’s party desperately needs to reach, will certainly think twice.
Apologizing a few days later for his mistake was a necessary step, but McDonnell’s original exclusion is still what will be remembered most. Causing such a stir so early in his term only creates political enemies more speedily that will ‘remember’ stuff like this when then next election comes around. But who knows? Maybe another governor might even take the idea and run with it; who’s to say that Maryland or Pennsylvania won’t create a ‘Union History Month?’
Remembering history is vital, but remembering certain parts more than others does more damage than good. Confederate sacrifices should be remembered, but forgetting the less noble aspects paints an inaccurate picture that distorts the real story. Whatever McDonnell is trying to accomplish with ‘Confederate History Month’, its one-sided approach to remembering history angers and estranges a decent portion of Virginia citizens. McDonnell should remember that and proceed with caution.
Calvin Sherwood is a Freshman