Even with the initial support of fellow Republican Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Virginia’s governor, Bob McDonnell, recently apologized for leaving out of his proclamation naming April “Confederate History Month”any reference to slavery, after much open debate and outrage. He hastily tacked on language calling slavery “evil and inhumane.”

Perhaps better late than never, but, despite this horrendous gaffe by omission, there are more social and political serious implications here.

According to Mellissa Harris-Lacewell, professor of Political Science and African-American Studies at Princeton University, every Virginia governor has had a choice about making this proclamation and, before now, no Democratic governor has chosen to do so.

In a recent NPR interview, Harris-Lacewell said that for this governor chose to do so in the context of a social movement brewing on the right that has secessionist language as part of its pushback against policies coming from this particular administration that feels more “ like an aggressive stance over and against this administration of this African-American president.”

“The larger issue is whether a Confederate History Month should be celebrated at all, with or without the overt mention of slavery,” asserts Adele Stand, Washington bureau chief for Alternet.org.

“If anything, the era of the Confederacy should be regarded as a dark and shameful episode, as should Sherman’s burning of Atlanta, a war crime if ever there was one.”

As a person of African descent, it is, of course, impossible for me to overlook the fact that if Confederate soldiers had won the war, black people would have continued to have been bought, sold, raped and killed with impunity for even more years.

On the other hand, I can see how the matter of slavery might have obscured other aspects of Confederate heritage.

Indeed, white Southerners are still sometimes stereotyped as cultural and social inferiors, who are universally prejudiced in their beliefs.

As well, the causes of the Civil War itself, are complex. Some argue that many a Northern industry would have benefited from a Confederate win, particularly the textile mills that relied on cotton that was mostly harvested by slaves in the South. Certainly, the economic health of most Southern states, which only had to provide food and shelter to their slave work force, was in the minds of Confederate soldiers.

Surprisingly, the Emancipation Proclamation at first only technically applied to the Confederate states, allowing Union slave-holding states to keep their slaves. It wouldn’t be until the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865, after the Civil War ended, that these Northern slaves were freed.

Confederates’ views of what constituted a so-called moral society, not the least of which was the total sacredness of property, including human property, was problematic.

In many of their minds, the sole purpose of the government was to protect and extend those rights. Their states’ rights arguments, unconscionably, left out the disturbing reality that these states were also demanding the right to maintain slavery.

Recalling the American Confederacy will always represent a people’s vigorous effort to keep people of African descent in chattel bondage, while continuing to benefit and profit from the unpaid labor of countless black workers.

It has also has been viewed as a time of history when citizens stood up against a government that they believed was attempting to impose rules and regulations against their way of life.

And, that is exactly what is especially dangerous about this kind of revisionist history.

Reminiscing about human bondage as a romantic noblesse oblige of slaveholders in the best interests of its victims and, in many cases, using the Bible to rationalize their actions, is a kind of mentality that should be stopped dead in its tracks.

“Even if you took race and slavery and the stain of racial inequality out of the story, even if you pretended that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War, the fact is it was an attempt to break the Union,” asserts Harris-Lacewell, a native of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“It’s one thing to commemorate it, to recognize that it happened; it’s another thing to turn it into an heroic moment that we should celebrate and potentially emulate.”

It is clear that Confederacy enthusiasts are more energized these days and that many of them are actively questioning the legitimacy of the United States’ first president of African descent.

But, to ignore the wrongs in America history is to feed into an even worse wrong, that of making history fit the will of those who want to glorify and repeat the mistakes of our past.

 

Leigh Donaldson is a Portland writer whose book, “The Written Song: The Antebellum African-American Press in the Northeast,” is due for publication this year. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]