Plenty of historical bloggers have weighed in on VA Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proclamation of Confederate History Month and his subsequent apology for omitting slavery from it: Kevin Levin, Brooks Simpson, Robert Moore, and Richard Williams, for instance.
The last meeting of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, two eminent Virginia Confederates, on May 2, 1863. From Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park's website.
These historical dust-ups normally don’t spill over into more general-purpose news sites, but this one has done just that. The Washington Post‘s Virginia Politics blog has devoted several posts to the subject.
Even more interesting is this post from the same paper’s political analysis blog, on whether McDonnell’s gaffe will cost him a position on a national ticket. The blogger plays it down, but the fact that people are raising the question at all tells us something about the way we’re remembering the Civil War nowadays. Confederate history, it seems, is quite the political liability.
This item on the Post blog states that the Sons of Confederate Veterans requested that McDonnell issue the proclamation, and notes that an SCV spokesman “said the governor’s stamp of approval would help the group publicize the month and aide [sic] tourism efforts in the state.” I didn’t know the SCV was in the tourism promotion business, and I don’t see why a proclamation of “Virginia Civil War History Month” wouldn’t have accomplished the same thing. In any case I don’t see how a gubernatorial proclamation of any sort would increase visitation to museums and historic sites. This sort of thing strikes me as a case of giving lip service to promoting historical awareness and heritage tourism with nothing to back it up.
Having perused a list of the governor’s official proclamations on his website, I’m not convinced that being the subject of one is anything to write home about. For instance, in addition to naming April Confederate History Month, McDonnell has also proclaimed the same month to be Financial Literacy Month.
March is pretty busy, with Mediation Month, Kidney Day (note the stirring section following the first “WHEREAS” on that one), Governmental Purchasing Month, and Tornado Preparedness Day. Rest assured that if by some remarkable coincidence a tornado had struck Virginia on March 16, 2010, her citizens would have been thoroughly ready for it.
And Virginians of all ages were no doubt wetting their pants in anticipation of Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week back in February.
If the SCV is so concerned about promoting Virginia history, then let them lobby their state officials to beef up funding for historic sites, the state historical society, and so on. That would take good deal more effort than convincing the governor to issue a simple proclamation, but it would do far more good.
Similarly, if the governor wants people to visit his state’s many wonderful historic destinations, he’s in an excellent position to do something about it—but I think a proclamation will do very little toward that end. Let him take active steps to strengthen historical interpretation and preservation in the state which he runs. Let him present a budget to the legislature with robust allowances for the state agencies which serve as caretakers of Virginia’s history. Let him pledge not to lay off the people who work for these agencies, as so many state executives have done. Let him implement sincere measures to make Virginia’s historic destinations the centerpiece of the state’s tourism initiatives.
I don’t think the proclamation of Confederate History Month did either harm or good to the cause of promoting Virginia’s Civil War past. In fact, I don’t think it has done much of anything, except make a lot of people very upset.