Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell apologizes for his “Mistake” on slavery

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VirginiaVirginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, under fire from his proclamation designating April as Confederate History Month, apologized late Wednesday “to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed” by his failure to slavery or slaves in the proclamation.

“The proclamation issued by this Office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission. 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. 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,” the governor said.

The governor’s initial seven-paragraph proclamation, which appeared on his Web site on Friday but did not attract attention until Tuesday, calls for Virginians to “understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War.”  On Tuesday, the governor defended his decision not to include a reference to slavery.

“There were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia,” he said. He also stated in response to a reporter’s question that slavery was not “significant” enough to be included.

The proclamation and the governor’s stubborn defense of its language unleashed a battery of condemnation, most notably from Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and one of Gov. McDonnell’s top Black supporters. Johnson, a democrat whose backing helped put the republican governor in office last year, called the omission of slavery “personally offensive.”

“I must condemn Governor McDonnell’s Proclamation honoring ‘Confederate History Month,’ and its insensitive disregard of Virginia’s complicated and painful history, the remnants of which many Virginians still wrestle with today,” she said in a statement. “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. If Virginians are to celebrate their ‘shared history,’ as this proclamation suggests, then the whole truth of this history must be recognized and not evaded.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Timothy M. Kaine, who preceded McDonnell as governor of Virginia, said, “Governor McDonnell’s decision to designate April as Confederate History Month 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, and offends millions of Americans of all races and in all parts of our nation.”  

Kaine noted that Virginia had “broken the back of segregation” and did not want to “go backward.” He recalled that Virginia was the first state to elect an African-American governor, passed a unanimous General Assembly resolution expressing profound regret for ‘the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation’s history,’ and cast its electoral votes for President Obama.

“A failure to acknowledge the central role of slavery in the Confederacy and deeming insignificant the reprehensible transgression of moral standards of liberty and equality that slavery represented is simply not acceptable in the America of the 21st century,” he said.

The Virginia State Conference of the NAACP is expected to hold an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss problems it has had with Gov. McDonnell since he took office in January.

Gov. Mcdonnell’s proclamation, ostensibly to promote tourism in Virginia, but seen by many as an attempt to bolster his standing among conservatives, comes just days before the anniversary of the state’s secession from the union. Virginia will mark the 150th anniversary of the secession on April 17, 2011. Richmond, its capital, was also the capital of the Confederacy of the 11 southern states that seceded from the union in order to preserve their slave-based economy.
 
The 1860 Census puts Virginia’s population at about 1.6 million. With 433,000 of them enslaved and 58,000 “free persons of color,” Blacks accounted for 31 percent of the population at the time. Thousands of them took refuge on Union military bases during the Civil War and many fought with Union soldiers against the confederates.