Historians Respond to Gov. McDonnell’s Confederate History Month Proclamation
Today I picked up the most recent issue of Civil War Times (August 2010) which includes my editorial on Governor Robert McDonnell’s Confederate History Month Proclamation. I joined an impressive group that included William Marvel, Susannah Ural, Lesley Gordon, S. Waite Rawls III, Catherine Clinton, Harold Holzer, Harry Smeltzer, and Michael Fellman. I enjoyed reading the other selections as well as Gary Gallagher’s essay on the controversy. Readers of this blog won’t find anything new in my submission:
The response to Governor McDonnell’s proclamation reflects the extent to which white and black Americans no longer identify with a Civil War remembrance that fails to acknowledge the centrality of slavery and emancipation to the war in Virginia. His subsequent apology ought to be understood in light of a dramatic shift in public perception that has taken place over the past few decades. Changes to the racial profile of local and state governments in the wake of the Civil Rights movement has allowed black Americans to take part in public debate.
A tour of Virginia reveals a historical landscape dominated by monuments that celebrate the common soldier as well as the Confederacy’s political and military leaders. In addition to remembering the past, these sites reflect the values and racial profile of the ruling party throughout much of the 20th century. The original proclamation would have us continue to remember Virginia’s Civil War through this narrow lens. On the eve of the Sesquicentennial, Virginians demand a proclamation that commemorates a more accurate and richer past. In doing so we ensure that 2011 will not be a repeat of 1961. (p. 44)
Apparently, representatives of Sons of Confederate Veterans were contacted, but chose not to contribute to this forum. I’m not surprised. Perhaps they were too busy worrying about stories such as the following, which I read about this morning. Last week hundreds of eight graders from Burke County, North Carolina traveled to hear Rev. Herman White as part of the area’s Founders Day Festival. The good reverend “asserted that slaves before “the War of Northern Aggression” had more rights than African Americans have today and disparaged the Gettysburg Address as “political garbage.” You can read more about this travesty here, but I think the response by the local SCV is both incredibly disturbing and helpful in understanding their position on the governor’s proclamation:
The Waldensian Trail of Faith, a local nonprofit organization, sponsors the Valdese-Waldensian Founders Festival. The association’s president, State Sen. Jim Jacumin, said the Burke County Tigers, a Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) group, recommended — “raved” about — White as a speaker. Jacumin said, “We don’t research. That’s something we don’t do. We don’t have the money or the time to do that… It’s like a pastor who comes to your church and preaches, you don’t research him.” According to Tigers’ chaplain Larry Smalls’ introduction, White is the pastor of Archdale Church of God, has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in ministry and is working toward his doctorate. He said White is a state and national SCV Life Member and has been the SCV N.C. Division chaplain for six years.” (White) is a purebred unreconstructed Southerner and not ashamed to say so,” Small said, “and Dixie burns in his heart.” Tigers’ adjutant Elgie McGalliard said the organization did not know specifically what White would speak about, but knew he focused on the history of the South. “He’s a minister; he just talks what’s in his heart,” McGalliard said.
I guess it doesn’t matter that “what’s in his heart” is a lot of racist and historically inaccurate crap. I would suggest that the above quote nicely encapsulates the SCV’s place on the landscape of Civil War remembrance. It really is hard to imagine that people still think along these lines. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.