Virginia Governor Concedes Slavery Omission in Confederate History Month Decree

April 8, 2010 - 5:11 AM
As part of his mea culpa, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell inserted into the Confederate History Month proclamation a paragraph condemning slavery and naming it as the cause of the Civil War.
Bob McDonnell

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell delivers the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech in the Virginia House of Delegates in Richmond, Va., on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Richmond, Va. (AP) - Under pressure from critics, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell on Wednesday said the failure to mention slavery in a proclamation declaring April as Confederate History Month was a "major omission"
 
As part of his mea culpa, McDonnell inserted into the proclamation a paragraph condemning slavery and naming it as the cause of the Civil War.
 
"The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War. Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation," he said in a 400-word statement.
 
The Republican governor's revisions came after a day of scalding denunciations as the story became grist for cable news shows and caught fire on political blogs and in social media.
 
The Democratic Party also weighed in. Tim Kaine, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a former Virginia governor, said McDonnell's failure to condemn or even acknowledge "the pernicious stain of slavery" was "insensitive to the extraordinary efforts of Americans to eliminate slavery and bind the nation’s wounds."
 
Kaine said the failure to note the "central role of slavery in the Confederacy" was offensive to millions of Americans of all races and "is simply not acceptable in the America of the 21st century.”
 
On Tuesday, McDonnell said in a telephone news conference that he wasn't focused on slavery in drafting the decree but on Civil War history.
 
"The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed," McDonnell's statement said.
 
The lack of any mention of human bondage originally -- and his fumbling reply in the news conference when a reporter asked him to explain -- left critics and even former supporters outraged.
 
Sheila C. Johnson, the co-founder of the Black Entertainment Network and a longtime Democratic donor who rocked the world of politics by endorsing McDonnell's candidacy a year ago, blasted him.
 
"The complete omission of slavery from an official government document, which purports to be a call for Virginians to 'understand' and 'study' their history, is both academically flawed and personally offensive," she told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
 
State Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Mary Margaret Whipple of Arlington appeared on MSNBC to chide McDonnell for ignoring a profound wrong in U.S. history.
 
"I think Governor McDonnell's proclamation is very troubling to me and many others because it only presents one side of the story, one part of our history," Whipple said.
 
McDonnell's predecessor and current Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said that to dedicate April to honoring the Confederacy "without condemning, or even acknowledging, the pernicious stain of slavery or its role in the war disregards history, is insensitive to the extraordinary efforts of Americans to eliminate slavery and bind the nation's wounds."
 
McDonnell's apology mollified one of his harshest critics from a day earlier, L. Douglas Wilder, a grandson of slaves whose election in Virginia in 1989 made him the nation's first elected black governor.
 
"I think he did the best he could do with what he had to work with," said Wilder, a Democrat who gave McDonnell's candidacy a boost last fall by refusing to endorse his own party's nominee for governor. "For him to come out at first and do what he did was a mistake. He admits that was a mistake."
 
McDonnell issued the proclamation Friday at the behest of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, descendants of rebel soldiers. McDonnell was the first Virginia governor to issue such a proclamation since fellow Republican Jim Gilmore in 2001. Democrats Mark Warner and Kaine, who succeeded Gilmore, refused.