"Today, [people] like to shop around through history selectively, to find a position in history that reflects their passions of today," says Lacy Ford, a University of South Carolina historian and author of the recently published "Deliver Us From Evil: The slavery question in the Old South." "But that's a very dangerous thing to do. History properly studied is the great enemy of political correctness and present-mindedness."
After facing widespread criticism, McDonnell late Wednesday amended the original proclamation to include a paragraph about slavery. It now notes "it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice.…"
"We cannot avoid our past," the governor said in a separate statement.
Today's aversion to all things Confederate, so evident among groups like the NAACP, stems less from the dynamics of secession and more from the way that Southern governors in the 1950s and '60s such as Alabama's George Wallace would, in effect, stick the Confederate battle flag in the eyes of the civil rights movement as white Southerners attempted to preserve segregation, says Dr. Ford.
Though McDonnell has revised the proclamation to decry slavery, many Americans, including some Southerners, remain angry that Confederate History Month will be brought back after Virginia's two previous governors – Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine – had abandoned it. They see in it an implied wink to a conservative interpretation of the Confederacy currently in vogue, experts say: that the Confederacy was a libertarian crusade for small government. It's a view few historians would support.