'Confederate History Month' Sparks Debate In Virginia
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Virginia's Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, apologized yesterday. That's after backlash over his proclamation of Confederate History Month and what it left out.
As Jacob Fenston reports, the governor has reignited a long, simmering debate over how to remember Virginia's role in the Civil War.
JACOB FENSTON: When Governor McDonnell proclaimed April Confederate History Month, he didn't mention slavery.
Governor BOB MCDONNELL (Republican, Virginia): Well, I wasn't focused on that. I was focused on the part of the Civil War history and the Confederate Army.
FENSTON: A storm of criticism followed. NAACP president, Benjamin Todd Jealous.
Mr. BENJAMIN TODD JEALOUS (President, NAACP): If we're going to have the shared recognition of history in a state like Virginia, then you've got to recognize the whole history. You can't ignore the primacy of slavery in sparking the war or the primacy of the war in ending slavery.
FENSTON: Late yesterday, McDonnell relented and issued an apology. To make up for it, he added a new paragraph to the proclamation, recognizing slavery as evil and inhumane. McDonnell is Virginia's third Republican governor to recognize Confederate History Month. The gesture was requested by a group dedicated to honoring the Confederate soldier.
Mr. BRAG BOWLING (Sons of Confederate Veterans): The Confederate soldier was probably the finest infantry soldier America's ever had in any war.
FENSTON: Brag Bowling is in charge of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Virginia. Like all the group's members, he can trace his roots to a Confederate soldier. In Bowling's case, a private in the Confederate Army.
Mr. BOWLING: We lost, but there's a lot to be proud of in the sacrifice of the soldiers and what they did to save Virginia.
Mr. WILL GLASGOW(ph) (Guide, Museum of the Confederacy): Yeah, I just have those tickets ready for you. I'm going to grab them when...
FENSTON: That history is being preserved here at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. It's home to the world's largest collection of Confederate flags. But the main attraction is the Confederate White House, where Jefferson Davis lived during his presidency.
Guide Will Glasgow is taking a group of tourists through the mansion.
Mr. GLASGOW: Now, in this room we can place General Lee drinking coffee with Jeff and Varina Davis.
FENSTON: One of the reasons for Confederate History Month, according to the governor, is to draw tourists to Virginia's historic sites, like this one.
Bob Walters(ph) is visiting the museum from Ohio.
Mr. BOB WALTERS: I think you should study all aspects of the history. I think you should study a lot about the losers. Because not a lot is written about how the side that lost lived and how they fought.
FENSTON: But outside the museum on the streets of Richmond, not all Virginians are eager to study Confederate soldiers.
Ms. DONETTE SAMUEL(ph): When I was growing up, as an African-American, I always thought of them as the bad guys in history.
FENSTON: Donette Samuel is a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Ms. SAMUEL: Like, if they would've won, like, I don't know where I would be right now, if I would even be in college.
FENSTON: Down the street, Divine Shakur(ph) says Confederate History Month leaves out his Virginian ancestors.
Mr. DIVINE SHAKUR: I see acknowledging Confederate history as no different than those who live in Nazi Germany saying, I'm going to acknowledge the SS, or the Third Reich. Qualitatively, I see no difference.
FENSTON: But Brag Bowling, with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, says slavery is already being taught and doesn't need to be part of this history month.
Mr. BOWLING: Slavery is addressed almost daily in school systems. Whereas, Confederate soldier isn't talked about at all.
FENSTON: But Bowling says he supports Governor McDonnell's amendment to recognize slavery. He hopes it will quiet the governor's critics.
For NPR News, I'm Jacob Fenston.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.