In addition to my post from this past Thursday both Robert Moore and Andy Hall have noted that Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell has yet to come through with his promise to issue a proclamation setting aside April as “Civil War in Virginia Month”. I hope that this can be explained as an oversight having to do with a busy schedule more important matters, but I am beginning to doubt it.
The problem as I see it is not simply that the governor has decided not to issue the proclamation, but that he made the announcement at a major conference on slavery and race sponsored by the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission. His words clearly resonated with the audience, but without the follow through it looks like he used the occasion and the commission to further what now looks like a short-term political agenda.
That’s unfortunate given the hard work that the commission has done over the past few years. It has done a superb job of steering clear of partisan politics and focusing on disseminating the latest scholarship in an age appropriate way to those Virginians interested in this important time in American history. Did the governor really just use these people to further his own agenda?
There is still time to do the right thing and issue what promised to be a Civil War proclamation for all Virginians.
I spoke with the Governor’s Communications Director. Here you go guys:
Thanks so much, Brian.
Now that the Civil War has happened 150 years ago what do you think the importance that a Civil War in Virginia Month would represent for Virginians? Would it further stress race relations within the state because of the republican governor that failed to address slavery when he first started the plan, or would it unite us by acknowledging Virginia’s troubled past. With the home of the capitol of the Confederacy and bordering the national capitol Virginia’s connection to the Civil War are not as strong as they once were throughout the state. Why is it important for the younger generation to understand and respect the heritage of our ancestors who enslaved or fellow man?
Thanks for the comment. I am not naive enough to believe that a proclamation can “unite” all Virginians and that is not really my interest to begin with. I thought the governor struck just the right tone in his speech and helped to open a window of opportunity that dovetails perfectly with the hard work that the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission has put in over the past few years.
Seeing as though “Confederate History Month” is nothing new (both Republicans George Allen and Jim Gilmore supported the same sort of declaration before Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine decided not to continue it) is this really such a big deal? It seems that the continued controversy over the naming of a month exists only to provide an outlet to argue. Sure, omitting the existence of slavery in his proclamation was definitely wrong, as was creating a new expectation for a “Civil War Month”; however these types of political faux pas happen every day. Maybe he’s just trying to cater to his constituents, nothing new about that either.
The South still differs from the North in many aspects; the most relevant to this topic would be the fact that it has officially lost a war. History is a testament to the long lasting memories of civilizations and cultures; surely the South hasn’t forgotten their one defining defeat. Is it so much to ask for a month to remember an essential moment in Virginia’s history?
Just about everyone in the South would admit that the country changed for the better with the eradication of slavery. A celebration of Confederate culture may not appear to be logical to some, but neither is fighting tooth and nail to change an inoffensive name. Virginia was the capital of the Confederacy, ignoring this would be just as bad as ignoring slavery in an official proclamation. Additionally, changing the name to “Civil War Month in VA” would likely have little influence on what commemorative events would happen in the years to come. People like traditions, and I can only imagine the consequences of changing the name would only stir more trouble. Is it possible that to nitpick about this issue doesn’t make someone righteous or progressive, it simply makes them unnecessarily meddlesome? Is instituting progress for the sheer sake of progress accomplishing anything at all? I’d have to conclude no.
Thanks for the comment. I think this is about more than what we name the month. The governor gave what I still believe to be a very thoughtful speech that attempted to reach out to a wide swath of the population. He did it by offering a fairly sophisticated understanding of the reality of the war in Virginia. I don’t believe the governor was ignoring anything in his speech. In fact, the opposite is true. There is room to honor and remember the Confederate soldier without having to present an overly narrow narrative.
Next time I talk to the Governor or his staff, I’ll ask him. Given the fact that the General Assembly just began the redistricting session, he’s been in Houston cheering on VCU, and we just got through his proposals for amendments to the bills passed in the last General Assembly session, he’s had quite a bit on his plate beyond the Civil War commemoration.
Also, keep in mind that this is only the second week in April. It’s entirely possible we’ll see something here before the end of the month. We’ve got four years worth of commemorations of the war. If he doesn’t get to it now, that doesn’t mean what he said was part of some vague short term political agenda (what would that be, anyway?).
I am hopeful that the governor will come through. I am admittedly a bit anxious only because I was so impressed with his speech.
I agree that patience is in order. But the idea that Governor McDonnell’s office happens to be particularly busy busy with other things this week is pretty lame. This is something that was announced, in the most public way possible, six months ago, and could have been “in the can,” written up, reviewed, edited, re-edited, etc., months ago. Not like they didn’t know April was coming around again, you know?
Governor McDonnell’s problem is simple: he established this expectation. He can’t complain about the result.
I wonder if it is just that easy – stand by the podium and give a statement. Normally these type observances are accompanied by public events, additional pubic service announcements, and co-sponsoring organizations (oh, and don’t forget the swag!). To Brian’s point, we’ve already been put on for a four year observance as things stand. Perhaps we Civil War wonks are pushing the public’s limited patience (and tax dollars) with our little historical observances. Just saying.
Besides there are logistical issues that need be resolved…. I hear the state still has thousands of unused T-shirts with “My Virginia Lovin’ Grandpapy was a Grey Beard Confederate!” on the front.
Thanks for the comment, but I am having trouble understanding your point. The governor made a very public announcement at a conference sponsored by a state-sponsored commission that he would issue a proclamation designating April as Civil War in Virginia month. He still has not done so. I’m not sure what this has to do with “pushing the public’s limited patience.” Thanks
Just that. I’m not quite sure how much I need to color in for you here. After all, you’ve lived in the state too. If April is “to be” Civil War month, then there would need to be more than just empty words in a public announcement, right?
Thanks for the follow up, Craig. I don’t know if there needs to be more than words; after all, the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission is an extension of the state of Virginia. What I was hoping for is a proclamation from the governor that supports the ongoing projects of the commission. I don’t believe that his speech or a proclamation in support of it constitute “empty words”; words matter a great deal here.
Let me submit, however, that if the Governor did deliver the proclamation you suggest, that you would be among those clamoring for “more than just words”. Peace.
And you would be oh so wrong. Thanks for taking it upon yourself to assume how I would respond.
Well you did write this:
“That’s a good thing for those of us who hope to see a sesquicentennial commemoration that asks its citizens to face the tough questions of the past in hopes of building a shared history of the conflict that may help us to push forward as a community.”
So a few words would be all that is needed for the community to “push forward”? We just need the Governor to say “start pushing”?
Please, my aim is not to insult you. I agree with your thoughts here. I don’t think you are taking into consideration the realities. And as I said before, I shouldn’t have to paint the picture for someone who is familiar with the public appetite in Virginia.
I don’t understand what “realities” I am failing to consider. Believe me, I understand the political complexity on the state and federal levels.
I’m not referring to political complexities (where did I mention those?). Read the original comment please.
You said: “I don’t think you are taking into consideration the realities. And as I said before, I shouldn’t have to paint the picture for someone who is familiar with the public appetite in Virginia.”
I assumed you were talking about politics. Look Craig, I always enjoy our discussions, but this isn’t going anywhere so let’s just end it.
Brian, when you talk to the governor, please also mention (if the opportunity presents itself) that I’d be happy to work with his staff on the wording. I’m sure that, as a descendant of several men who served with the Army of Northern Virginia, my involvement would be welcomed by Mr. Bowling and the Virginia Division of the SCV.