Whose Tourist Dollars Does Governor McDonnell Hope to Attract?

Governor McDonnell would have us believe that his primary goal in re-instituting Confederate History Month was to promote tourism in Virginia on the eve of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  On the face of it there is nothing wrong with promoting such an agenda.  Unfortunately, even a cursory glance at the content of his proclamation raises unsettling questions of whose tourist dollars the governor is interested in attracting and where he hopes those dollars will be spent:

Virginia has long recognized her Confederate history, the numerous civil war battlefields that mark every  region of the state, the leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today[.]

We can see clearly both who is being singled out and where those tourist dollars will end up.  To the extent that we will see a boost in tourism over the next few years here in Virginia it is clear that our Civil War battlefields will benefit the most.  It should come as no surprise that the major battlefields, many of them under the care of the National Park Service, will attract the vast majority of tourists and rightfully so.  The proclamation also points to sites such as the Virginia Military Institute where the stories of brave soldiers can be found as well as the homes of prominent Confederate leaders such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.  Museums that focus predominantly on military matters will also stand to benefit from such a proclamation.

Who will visit these sites?  One can answer with the utmost of confidence that it will be an overwhelmingly white audience.  Anyone familiar with heritage tourism understands that it is already incredibly difficult to attract African Americans to Civil War related sites, especially along the narrow lines outlined in the proclamation.  Virginia’s love affair with the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War has alienated much of the black population who remain largely suspicious of a collective memory that has ignored their story for far too long.  The governor’s proclamation reinforces this suspicion.

A more inclusive proclamation would have gone far to build bridges between communities by showcasing our historic sites, museums, and other resources to the widest possible audience.  If we are to believe the governor’s claim that his goal was to attract tourist dollars than why not issue a proclamation that is more inclusive and which will stand to financially benefit sites beyond battlefields and the homes of famous Confederate leaders?  It should come as no surprise that many of these sites are currently experiencing difficult financial times.  Where do such sites as the Black History Museum in Richmond, the Bedford Historic Meeting House, the Booker T. Washington Home, the Black Soldiers Memorial in Norfolk, and Richmond Slave Trail fit into Governor McDonnell’s goal of attracting tourist dollars?  How about a proclamation that also injects some much needed energy into plans for a National Slavery Museum?

I don’t mean to suggest that whites should stick to traditional Civil War sites as outlined in the governor’s SCV/Lost Cause inspired proclamation and that blacks should visit slavery museums and other sites that frame their history.  A more inclusive proclamation has the possibility, however slim, of allowing Americans to explore a much richer past.  I want to see black Americans visit battlefields as well as white Americans exploring significant sites associated with slavery not as part of the others story, but as part of our collective history.

20 thoughts on “Whose Tourist Dollars Does Governor McDonnell Hope to Attract?

  1. JB

    I want to see black Americans visit battlefields

    Well, as I had one black history professor in college tell me: “That’s your history. Why would I want to watch Amistad more than once?” Because of the drum beat of black history=slavery-slavery-slavery! he felt as though it was a way of constantly keeping him ‘down’, and out of the conversation.

    Another reason is, in my opinion, that the black community in the US has overwhelmingly adopted the simplistic Good-Guy/Bad-Guy narrative of the War and everything to do with it, and they’d much rather not investigate any evidence to the contrary. I remember a black French teacher in high school telling my class how devastated he was to read, as an adult, what Lincoln actually thought of his people after having idolized the man to a certain degree growing up. It can be disconcerting to read that Grant had slaves and Lee had none; that Jackson opened a Sunday School for blacks to learn to read and write and or that there was so much slave-master trust in many quarters of the South that Davis could leave his plantation in the care of his slaves during his stay in Richmond and that they ran it without fail until he sold it to their foreman at war’s end. These examples–though few–just don’t fit into the popular paradigm. Which is why you’re unlikely to see the Slave Narratives as part of an African American history course, in my opinion. The ex-slaves’ testimonials just muddy the waters instead of keeping the clear black-white dichotomy many would like to imagine that period of US history was like.

    Who will visit these sites? One can answer with the utmost of confidence that it will be an overwhelmingly white audience.

    Same’s true of Jamestown. Of Wounded Knee. Of the White House itself, for goshsakes, until maybe last year. The governor can really win for losing, can he? A “National Slavery Museum”? Throw one up! The overwhelming number of visitors will be white, no doubt.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      It seems to me that most people tend to see history as a morality play. All of us would do well to take a closer look at certain aspects of our past.

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    2. Margaret D. Blough

      People might be disconcerted in hearing that Grant owned slaves and Lee owned none because both are grossly misleading statements. According to the website “Which U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves?”http://www.nas.com/~lopresti/ps.htm. & the website http://faculty.css.edu/mkelsey/usgrant/facts.html, the only evidence that Grant, who came from an anti-slavery family, owned slaves is his signature on a document granting freedom to a a slave named William Jones who came from his father-in-law (Julia Dent Grant did come from a slave-owning family. It’s not specified what role she had re: Jones. If he was given to her, Grant, as her husband, would have automatically had property rights). At the time, Grant was in dire financial straits and could have sold Jones and pocketed the proceeds. Instead he gave him his freedom.

      Lee did, at various times, own a small number of slaves. One of the biggest barriers to Lee being much of a slave owner was that, after his father and older half-brother squandered almost all of the family assets, he couldn’t have afforded them out of his personal assets. Yes, he freed slaves but that was because those slaves belonged not to him or his wife but his father-in-law George Washington Parke Custis, who emulated his adored adoptive grandfather, and provided for their empanciipation in his will. Lee was the will’s executor. He gets some points for not trying to break that provision of the will.

      As for Jefferson Davis, regardless of whether he trusted his slaves, they remained his slaves and, if Davis had died before slavery ended without manumitting his slaves, they still could have and would have been, in some instances, been transferred as parts of bequests or sold to pay estate debts. As for Lincoln, that leaves out a lot of complexity about his views. However, regardless of what he thought of blacks, he never waivered from the believe that it was wrong to hold them as property.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        Thanks Margaret. It’s unfortunate that we have to go round and round on this ridiculous issue. I can’t tell you how many times Bob Pollock has dealt with this.

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    3. Bob Huddleston

      Robert E. Lee was, indeed, a slave holder. In 1846 he paid taxes on four slaves, possibly inherited from his mother.
      Of greater importance, he was from November 1857 to February 1860, on leave of absence from the Army serving as the executor of the estate of his father-in-law, George Washington Custis.
      The Custis will divided his various farms among the children of Robert and Mary Lee, with Mary receiving a life estate in Arlington, the remainder to the eldest son, George Washington Custis. The will also provided sums of money to the Lee daughters. Unfortunately, the Custis estate was heavily encumbered and there was no money available to pay the girls.
      The will provided further that G. W. C. Lee was to change his name to Custis. Robert fought that in court and the courts ruled that G.W.C. could inherit without dropping the Lee surname.
      Of importance to our discussion, the estate had 196 slaves. As executor of the estate and as the wife of the only daughter of the deceased, Lee was a slaveholder de facto and even de jure.
      Custis instructed Lee to free them within five years. However Col. Lee determined there was a conflict between the obligations owned to the Lee daughters and the manumission of the slaves and he sought advice from his sons as to whether he had to comply. It was decided that the manumission had to be done within the five years, notwithstanding that the girl’s benefices were unpaid and became a lien on the estate, something that bothered Lee.
      On December 27, 1862, Lee filed the required manumission record with the court in Richmond – obviously Arlington was off limits! He had hired some of the more recalcitrant slaves, those who refused to do the extra work or who had been ungrateful enough to run away, out to Southside Virginia. Whether these were included in the manumission is unclear.
      Of course it was all worthless: the slaves were free under the Confiscation Acts and, in any event, were included in the Emancipation Proclamation. And most had already freed themselves by remaining at Arlington or becoming contrabands.
      For more details, see Joseph C. Roberts, “Lee the Farmer,” Journal of Southern History, vol. 3, # 4 (November 1937), p. 422-440, as well as the 1860 Census Slave schedules.

      Reply
  2. Jimmy Price

    Hi Kevin,

    Here in Henrico we’re trying to increase public awareness of the African American contribution, since New Market Heights happened right here.

    Tomorrow we’re having an event in a predominantly African American neighborhood that honors USCT’s (see: http://sablearm.blogspot.com/2010/04/usct-event-in-henrico.html)

    I’ll be very interested to see what type of turnout we get, as I’m very familiar with the difficulties you speak of.

    Will keep you posted.

    Thanks,

    Jimmy

    Reply
  3. Charlene

    The article – Whose Tourist Dollars Does Governor McDonnell Hope to Attract? very well could have been written by me. I loved reading it becasue the subject of the exclusion of African American history in this country and in our children’s school books and also in the tourism industry has been a sore subject for me for several years now. In fact Texas is now in the process of virtually re-writing hsitory for their children’s school books. Yikes.

    As a white mother raising a bi-racial daughter, it was my goal to educate her as much as I could about her African American heritage. I thought that the best way would be through travel, so I started planning trips to the southern states. To my dismay, although I could find plenty of information in Tennesssee about Graceland and the Country Music Hall of Fame, I could find very little on African American history. I knew there must be more, but it was only by word of mouth that we learned of a very small and humble museum called Slavehaven, and only through the quiet, older women who greeted us there, did we learn about an auction block that still stands in downtown Memphis, as a quiet but bold reminder of what once occured in this country. It was only investing literally weeks of research did I finally discover that Sullivan’s Island, off the coast of South Carolina, was one of the main locations for the slave ships to unload their “cargo.” Only by taking a tour in Charleston, S.C. with a hard to find company called Gullah Tours, did we learn that some of the former slave cemeteries are now paved pay-parking lots. Yikes.

    Unless we uncover these hidden details, our society in this nation will never, ever understand each other, people will continue to fear those of color and other cultures, and the continued trickle down effects of slavery will never end.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      If we are to believe the governor that the proclamation was intended to boost tourism he missed a golden opportunity to highlight the very sites that you are pointing out. What a shame.

      You said: “Unless we uncover these hidden details, our society in this nation will never, ever understand each other, people will continue to fear those of color and other cultures, and the continued trickle down effects of slavery will never end.”

      That’s such an important point in all of this. Our tendency to carve up the Civil War into neat little segments really does reflect long-standing bitterness, mistrust, racism, and most of all, fear. Fortunately, with each generation we see change.

      Reply
  4. EarthTone

    FYI, this is from a book review at Amazon.com { http://www.amazon.com/REPRESENTATIONS-SLAVERY-PB-Eichstedt-Jl/dp/1588340961/ref=tmm_pap_title_0 } for the book Representations of Slavery: Race and Ideology in Southern Plantation Museums (Paperback – Sep 2002) by Jennifer Eichstedt and Stephen Small:

    “How is slavery presented at the public and private plantation museums in the American South, almost 150 years after the Civil War? Jennifer L. Eichstedt and Stephen Small investigated this question in Virginia, Georgia, and Louisiana by touring more than one hundred plantation museums; twenty locations organized and run by African Americans; and eighty general history sites. Their findings indicate that the experience and legacy of slavery is still inadequately presented within the larger discourse surrounding race, racism, and national identity.

    “The vast majority of sites construct narratives of history that valorize a white elite of the pre-emancipation South and trivialize the experience of slavery for both enslaved people and their enslavers. Through systematic analysis of richly textured data, the authors have developed a typology of primary representational/ discursive strategies used to discuss slavery and the enslaved. The authors clearly demonstrate how these strategies are linked to representations and practices in the larger social and political arenas.

    “Eichstedt and Small found counter narratives at sites organized and staffed by African Americans, and a small number of white-organized sites have made efforts to incorporate African American experiences of slavery as part of their presentations. But the predominant framework of the “white-centric exhibition narrative” persists, and the authors draw from contemporary literature on racialization, museums, cultural studies, and collective memory to make a case for public debate and intervention.”

    Reply
  5. EarthTone

    These are comments I made on another forum, I’d like to share them here:

    [1] African Americans, overall, have shown a weak interest in the CW. I think the AA community has a bittersweet, if not outright bitter feeling, toward the CW. Although several million blacks were released from slavery, they were not “free.” The Republicans and the federal government abandoned them; Southern Democrats gained redemption by terrorizing them and denying them their rights and liberties.

    By contrast, the Civil Rights Movement gets lots of attention. Of course the CRM is more recent, but there is also the feeling that something was “achieved,” that it “made life better.” Although the emancipation offered by the CW was huge, incalculably huge; the Redemption and Jim Crow give the War a unpleasant aftertaste, to say the least.

    [2] I’ve mentioned before, there are not just “two sides” to the CW. Many say it was about the North’s side and the South’s side, or the USA’s side and the CSA’s side.

    But there was another pair of sides: the un-enslaved side and the enslaved side. Most of the discussion is based on comments from the white un-enslaved in the North and South. The overwhelming sense is that African Americans were merely bystanders, not active participants in all of this. And that gives AAs the sense that the war is not “their” history, that historians don’t want to tell “their” side of the war.

    The strength of the Lost Cause view of history in the early part of the 1900s certainly didn’t help matters.

    [3] And yes, it’s absolutely true: many African Americans associate the CW with slavery. This link says it all:
    http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2010/apr/11/confederate-history/?opinioncartoons

    Slavery is painful and shameful. A lot of black people just don’t want to talk about it. And slavery is heavily associated with the Civil War.

    [4] Finally: A lot of people who are “into” the Civil War, I find, have come into that by way of their interest in military history. But it is my impression that the Viet Nam War basically “de-militarized” much of the baby boomer generation, and made “war stuff” a turnoff for many of them – and for black boomers in particular. That’s my impression; I don’t know if it’s a fact, but I think there’s something to that.

    It’s sad that so many African Americans have so little interest in an event that has done so much to shape their history and their country’s history. I think the way to address that is to look at how our grade schools are teaching history… but that’s a whole different topic.

    Reply
    1. JB

      The Republicans and the federal government abandoned them…

      And not just abandoned them: Black Codes throughout the North kept them ‘in their place’ nearly as much as Jim Crow laws in the South.

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      1. EarthTone

        Yes, there were Black Codes and discrimination in the North.

        But to say that the North was “nearly” as bad as the Jim Crow South… nobody who knows their history can say that. And I’m not being harsh, I’m just being honest.

        Reply
      2. Kevin Levin Post author

        JB,

        There were certainly limitations on the freedoms of blacks in the North, but Black Codes were passed in most (if not all) of the southern states following the war and they were much more restrictive. As you probably know they were designed to limit the movement of newly freed slaves by forcing them to sign year long contracts with land owners.

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        1. JB

          [Southern Black Codes] were designed to limit the movement of newly freed slaves

          And their Northern counterparts worked in tandem with them, like the Illinois legislation passed barring Blacks from the state altogether. So one said, ‘You can’t come here!’ while the other said, ‘Cause you can’t leave here!’

          Reply
          1. Kevin Levin Post author

            You are absolutely right. Racial discrimination in the north has also been largely ignored, especially examples like Illinois before the war. It’s unfortunate because it creates an incredibly skewed picture of the history of race in this country. I highly recommend Thomas Sugrue’s new book on the civil rights movement in the North, “Sweet Land of Liberty”: http://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Land-Liberty-Forgotten-Struggle/dp/0812970381/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271094686&sr=8-2

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          2. Bob Huddleston

            No, Northern anti-black laws were not “passed in tandem” with the Black Codes, nor were they the equivalent of the post-War former-slave state Black Codes. In New England, blacks had full civil rights; indeed, in the late 1850s the Massachusetts legislature overturned their state supreme courts’ version of Plessy.
            In the post war years, as the ex-slave states were passing Black Codes, Illinois in 1865, was repealing theirs. Remember also that blacks *always* had the right to marry, inherit, and keep the bread they earned. Even Illinois, at its worse, was a better place for blacks than any slave state and the worse of the Illinois anti-black laws did not begin to approach slavery. Nor was it a crime to argue that slavery was wrong nor to print and speak against discrimination.
            A couple of asides on the Illinois laws: they were pushed through the legislature in the early 1850s by a representative from Egypt, John A. Logan. Black Jack switched sides, as it were, during the War. In 1863, Grant placed him in charge of captured Vicksburg and it was Logan who prevented the paroled Rebels from taking their “Servants” with them when they marched out. He went on to send back to Illinois some freed ex-slaves, in violation of his own laws.
            And, it was because of the presence of the Logan Black laws that Jim could not cross the Mississippi from “St. Petersburg, Mo” to the free state of Illinois, leading Huck to help him escape down the River, heading, initially to the Ohio and then up that river to its namesake state.
            There is lot to be ashamed of in the Yankee laws – they had their share of race riots and it was one in Springfield in 1908 that led to the creation of the NAACP. But in no sense do any Northern laws touch those of the slave states, nor the post-war Southern Black Codes.

            Reply
            1. JB

              I didn’t say “passed in tandem”, I said “worked in tandem.” Take for example the Revised Code of Indiana, which stated in 1862 that blacks and mulattos are not allowed to come into the state ; all legal contracts with blacks and mulattos were considered null and void; imposed a $500 fine on anyone who employed a black person; forbade interracial marriage (to include forbidding anyone with even ’1/8 part of Negro blood’ from marrying a white person and a fine of up to $1000 for anyone encouraging interracial marriage); forbade blacks from testifying in court against white persons; forbid desegregated schools; and barred blacks from holding any political office.

              On the contrary, the prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those states where servitude has never been known. –Alexis de Tocqueville

              Reply
              1. JB

                I forgot to say: See Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank.

                Reply

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