Confederate History Month to Civil War in Virginia Month

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend this year’s Virginia Sesquicentennial conference on Race and Slavery at Norfolk State University owing to a school visit by former First Lady, Laura Bush.  For those of you looking for some excellent commentary on today’s proceedings I urge you to head over to Jimmy Price’s blog, The Sable Arm.  I am sure at some point the conference proceedings will be made available, but one of the highlights has to be Governor McDonnell’s opening remarks in which he announced that he will not “move forward with a proclamation to claim April 2011 as ‘Confederate History Month.’  Instead, he will proclaim next year’s observation as ‘Civil War in Virginia Month’ as a way to settle longstanding disputes within the Commonwealth over its history as the former capitol of the Confederacy during the Civil War.”  The governor’s remarks were spot on and I especially appreciate the following:

In the century and a half since the armistice was executed at Appomattox, few states have undergone as many changes, or witnessed such stunning growth and progress, as our Commonwealth. Our borders have been fixed for 147 years; but our culture, community, and breadth of opportunity have been incredibly dynamic. These changes have made Virginia a stronger and better place.

But they have also made our collective “memory” — how our diverse society remembers and processes the events in its collective history — much more complicated.  In earlier times, Virginia’s dominant culture was defined by relatively few, and basic civil rights were excluded for many. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of that culture, and both were present in abundance, as in any human enterprise – there was a common lens through which to view history. Those in power wrote a single, narrow narrative. It left out many people, along with their powerful stories.  And so, while talking about our history has become more complicated today, we can all agree it has also become a much richer conversation.

I couldn’t be more pleased with the governor’s decision as well as his incredibly thoughtful address.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

8 comments… add one
  • Billy Bearden Nov 8, 2010 @ 19:37


    It wasn’t the National Park Service that came to that conclusion, it was thrust upon them to alter interpretations by a law imposed on them by Jesse Jackson Junior.
    Noo Yerk Tymes bestseller
    “Tale of two Governors and thier respective Confederate History Month Proclamations”

    One was a democrat, the other a republican. Both issued Proclamations declaring April as Confederate History Month. Both did not include a slavery mention.

    The democrat was looked upon as a contender for higher office. Nobody dared to scold him. The republican was looked upon as the man who beat the current President’s party elites, and was severely punished,

    The republican gave his Mea Culpa, The democrat did not.

    Such is the biased world of media we live in, and now you know the rest of the McDonnell / Barnes story

    • Kevin Levin Nov 9, 2010 @ 1:41

      It’s not so simple, Mr. Bearden. The NPS was already engaged in the revision of many of its exhibits and broader interpretive projects. Jackson’s proposal did indeed receive a great amount of attention, but it would be a mistake to reduce this story down to one causal factor.

  • Rebecca Sep 25, 2010 @ 0:43

    As someone who has spent almost all of my 28 yrs living in south eastern Virginia, I am so sick of people trying to demonize any of this as racist. They should do a bit of educating themselves on the deep roots that my state has to the Civil War era, not to mention that Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy. More Civil War battles were fought in Virginia than any other state. There are 6 National Battlefield Memorials, countless civil war trails and a battle that forever changed the face of our naval power as a nation; who can forget the Monitor and the Merimac, Battle of the Ironclads! As a proud Navy brat with a father who is a 22 yr veteran, and just take a look at us now!! We are home to the most skilled and effective Navy in the entire history of the world!! Virginia was and still in many ways, is a divided state. When you throw in the influence of DC, that never ends well!! I live on the outskirts of a rural farm area that extends to the N Carolina border. Many in this area are direct descendants of Confederate veterans and take pride that their ancestors gave their all when asked. For too many years, the entire act of remembering the other heroes of the most pivotal war in this country’s history is insulting and offensive, Why not afford them the ability to feel that their family members were casualties of war, just the same as the Union soldiers??

    this link is wonderful in at least showing the public about the history of our Commonwealth!!

    • Andy Hall Sep 25, 2010 @ 4:34

      We Southerners refer to the ironclads as “Monitor and Virginia,” actually. Hope that helps.

    • EarthTone Sep 25, 2010 @ 5:43


      O this subject, I highly recommend the book “Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American History.” The book has an essay by Dr. Dwight Pitcaithley, who was the Chief Historian for the National Park Service from 1995-2005, that would be of interest. He was a speaker at the Conference.

      Dr. Pitcaithley’s essay talks about the tension between making civil war (and other historical) sites that merely acknowledge military events, as opposed to making sites that teach about the past and the context in which past events occurred.

      As discussed in the book, the National Park Service came to the conclusion in the late 1990s that for these sites, the “battlefield interpretation must establish the site’s particular place in the continuum of war; illuminate social, economic, and cultural that were caused or were effected by the war, illustrate the breadth of human experience during the period, and establish the relevance of the war to people today.”

      Simply put, the sites are not seen merely as places to glorify the dead, but also, as places to educate and enlighten the living.

      This is not about demonizing anyone as racist. However, it is a fact that slavery and racism are an integral part of the context of the Civil War, and their recognition is essential to our understanding of the war. I don’t feel that the recognition of a fact is “demonization,” but I do understand that it might be taken that way – which is saddening and unfortunate.

  • Roger E Watson Sep 24, 2010 @ 13:32

    I’ve been following your blog for several months now and it is extremely interesting. I found the governor’s remarks to be as you put it “spot on” ! My only quibble, and it is minor, was the term “armistice” as opposed to “surrender”. However, small steps……. !


    • Kevin Levin Sep 24, 2010 @ 13:45

      Hi Roger,

      Thanks for the kind words and for taking the time to comment.

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