Race

When Slavery Overshadows Confederate History

Confederate flag supporters demonstrate on the north steps of the capitol building 06 April, 2000 in i i

hide captionConfederate flag supporters demonstrate on the north steps of the capitol building April 6, 2000 in Columbia, SC.

Erik Perel/AFP/Getty Images
Confederate flag supporters demonstrate on the north steps of the capitol building 06 April, 2000 in

Confederate flag supporters demonstrate on the north steps of the capitol building April 6, 2000 in Columbia, SC.

Erik Perel/AFP/Getty Images

Virginia's newly minted Republican Governor, Bob McDonnell, proclaimed April as Confederate History Month, and has garnered a heap of praise and criticism.

The proclamation is a welcome breath of fresh, springtime air for conservative Virginians who have not seen such a commemoration since the days of their last Republican governors: George Allen, who signed the first Confederate proclamation in 1997, and James Gilmore, who succeeded Allen.

The proclamation mainly seems to honor the lives of those soldiers whose lives were lost in the Civil War. Here's an excerpt:

WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth's shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present ....

What About Slavery?

But critics of the proclamation, ranging from the NAACP to L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat and Virginia's first black governor, say it makes a glaring omission of slavery.

At the start of the Civil War in 1861, nearly 4 million Americans of African descent were claimed as property, according to numerous documents as well as collections in the African-American Civil War Museum. Then President Abraham Lincoln made an agreement with black soldiers: if they fought in the war to preserve the union (11 states had seceded) and won, then and only then, according to the museum's records, would slaves be made free.

The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 did not end slavery in all parts of the United States, but cemented for blacks who fought in the war that the war for the Union would also become a war for freedom.

By the end of the Civil War, roughly 179,000 black men (10 percent of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the United States. The National Archives reports that nearly 40,000 black soldiers died over the course of the war — 30,000 of them perished from infection or disease.

Activist: Slavery Already Gets Enough Attention

So why no mention of slavery in the proclamation?

I caught up with Brandon Dorsey, of the Sons Of Confederate Veterans. His group lobbied Gov. McDonnell for the proclamation.

Dorsey says the Civil Rights "issue" of slavery already gets too much attention when it comes to how the Civil War is remembered. According to him, slavery "deduces" confederate history.

Take a listen:

So, I guess the telling of history is curtailed to one's selective view.

Update at 8:18 p.m. ET: Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell concedes that "failure to include any reference to slavery [in the proclamation of Confederate History Month] was a mistake."

The Governor will add the following language to the decree:

WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history...

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