Seeking racial unity over slavery silence, McDonnell turns 'Confederate History Month' into 'Civil War in Virginia' remembrance
NORFOLK - Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell announced Friday that he will declare next April "Civil War in Virginia" month, rather than "Confederate History Month," as he once again expressed regret for a proclamation earlier this year that omitted a reference to slavery's role in the war.
Speaking at a scholarly conference on slavery and race held at Norfolk State University, McDonnell called on Virginians to remember the war with a solemn spirit of racial unity.
He called April's proclamation an "error of haste and not of heart," a misstep by an administration only a few months in office.
"My major and unacceptable omission of slavery disappointed and hurt a lot of people - myself included," he said. "And it is an error that will be fixed."
McDonnell drew national criticism when, shortly after taking office, he issued the proclamation at the request of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Even President Obama weighed in, chiding McDonnell for failing to mention the role slavery played in the state that was the capital of the Confederacy.
Within days, McDonnell apologized and reissued the proclamation with a new reference to the "abomination" of slavery.
For McDonnell, Friday's speech on race relations afforded an opportunity to try to reverse the political damage of his Confederate proclamation, but on his own terms and not as a reaction to April's media frenzy.
It could also help reestablish his reputation as a conservative who can speak to moderates, a key strategy of his 2009 campaign that took a beating during the Confederate episode.
In welcoming remarks at Friday's conference, part of Virginia's commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, McDonnell promised that next year he will issue a proclamation that acknowledges the broad sweep of the war in Virginia. He said it will be written to remember "all Virginians" - free and enslaved, and those who fought for both sides.
"One hundred and fifty years is long enough for Virginia to fight the Civil War," he said, drawing laughs and then appreciative applause from the 1,600 attendees of the seminar, titled "Race, Slavery and Civil War: The Tough Stuff of American History and Memory."
An inclusive gubernatorial proclamation will ensure that "people across the world will understand that Virginia has the capacity to grow and to change and to acknowledge truth," said state Sen. Yvonne B. Miller (D-Norfolk), a member of Virginia's legislative black caucus.