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Posted at 4:32 PM ET, 09/24/2010

Lessons from Virginia's shift on Confederate history

By Valerie Strauss

Several months after issuing a proclamation about “Confederate History Month” in Virginia without mentioning slavery’s role in the Civil War, the state’s governor, Robert F. McDonnell (R), has decided to call it “Civil War in Virginia Month” instead.

Better late than never, as is often said, though the lateness raises questions about how well the governor and his advisers understand American history, not to mention modern politics. It also underscores the different way the war is taught to students in different states.

Here’s what’s happened, according to my colleague Rosalind S. Helderman: McDonnell today announced he was changing the name of the history month and apologized for issuing the proclamation last April without mentioning slavery. He said, at a conference about slavery hosted as part of the state’s commemoration of the 150th anniversay of the Civil War, that the earlier action was an “error of haste, not heart.”

In any case, the battle over how to teach the conflict to new generations of Americans continues to this day.

There is little disagreement among professional historians that the South’s effort to maintain the institution of slavery was the central reason that 11 Southern states seceded from the Union and civil war erupted. Yet the Civil War is taught in New York differently than the way it is taught in Tennessee.

Northerners will attribute the cause of the war to slavery. But in many places in the South, the answers vary: states’ rights, freedom, political and economic power. Some teachers in the South still call the war “The War Between the States” rather than the Civil War.

In Virginia, there are still a number of reminders of the South’s stance in the war. There is an unarmed Confederate soldier standing in the intersection of Washington and Prince Streets that marks the location where units from Alexandria left to join the Confederate Army on May 24, 1861.

Monument Avenue in Richmond, a street that became a sort of memorial to the “Lost Cause” theory of the Civil War, has statues of Jefferson Davis, leader of the Confederacy, and J.E.B. Stuart, a Confederate Army general.

The “Lost Cause” theory, a pro-Confederate interpretation, held that slavery did not cause the war and that the South fought heroically despite having no chance of winning. Many historians nowadays say the outcome was not, in fact, inevitable.

As for McDonnell, better late than never. But what took so long?


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By Valerie Strauss  | September 24, 2010; 4:32 PM ET
Categories:  History  
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Comments

Valerie, now this is something we can agree on.

Southern states need to get over the loss they suffered 145 years ago. Slavery was wrong, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Sorry Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond. You were on the wrong side of history and no matter how you two (even though neither one of you will be down for breakfast in the morning) attempt to spin the outcome and/or history you're still the losers.

Would either of these two bigots want to be owned or purchased by another person? Case closed. You lose and you lost now fess up to your wrongdoings.

Posted by: phoss1 | September 24, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry, some of us teachers in the South are able to teach to the standards AND get the truth in there. Not that hard actually...

Posted by: HappyTeacher | September 24, 2010 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry, some of us teachers in the South are able to teach to the standards AND get the truth in there. Not that hard actually...

Posted by: HappyTeacher | September 24, 2010 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Civil War? War Between the States?

I believe you are referring to the War of Northern Aggression.

Posted by: someguy100 | September 24, 2010 10:14 PM | Report abuse

War of Northern Aggression?

Try War of Southern Elitists.

This war started the tradition of the wealthy buying their way out of battle...as opposed to the Revolutionary War which found every economic class invested in the outcome. Southern "gentleman" ignobly and intentionally confused each state legislature for personal gain, leaving the unpropertied warrior to suffer the horrible terrors of this first of modern wars.

Hindsight has proven Lincoln's wisdom: as the United States, we have prospered exponentially more than we ever would have had we split apart into something similar to Europe or Asia.

Although we still have ingrained racial prejudice in many places, especially across the South, we can at least claim to join the rest of the world and outlaw the concept of slavery...although sometimes the Republican's "free market" theory makes me wonder.

Posted by: chklbrry | September 25, 2010 3:41 AM | Report abuse

"War of the Rebellion" is engraved on some Northern monuments, a reminder of at least some Northerners' stance. The lessons and the truth lie somewhere in all the above, not just in slavery or in titles for the war.

Posted by: lalo60 | September 25, 2010 6:55 AM | Report abuse

It happened. It's history. All involved directly are long dead.

Glorifying the conflict by either North or South is pointless. It's over. Put it behind.

If World War I and World War II taught us nothing else, it showed that we, as a unified nation, need each other. Foreign interests are the real and continuing threat. As resources dwindle, this threat will increase.

All races, all creeds, all parts of the country. Out of many.....ONE!

Posted by: mosthind | September 25, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Seems to me we should teach facts and not what a bunch of liberal "professional historians" have cooked up.

Posted by: spidey103 | September 25, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

@ Governor McDonnell: I don't buy the "haste, not heart" thing. If you were really with the slaves and their descendants it would never have happened. They obviously were nowhere near the front of your mind. It happened because of the company you keep - the "plant" behind you to feign diversity during your speech in the House of Delegates notwithstanding.

Posted by: cmckeonjr | September 25, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

One of my Franklin County, Virginia ancestors returned from service in the cavalry and time in a federal prison camp and had a son, who he named "Ulysses S." during Grant's presidency.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | September 25, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

"This war started the tradition of the wealthy buying their way out of battle...as opposed to the Revolutionary War which found every economic class invested in the outcome."

this is not true. during what England calls the civil war, men of means hired others to serve for them.

Posted by: johannesrolf | September 25, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Education page? you mean propaganda page. Never was a Civil War it always was a War of Aggression and Lincoln's War. Never was all about slavery, although slavery was a part of it.

All the roads of The destruction of the Constitution and the Union lead to 1861, with Lincoln's takeover of the Confederate States of America forcing them into a union at gunpoint and bayonet.

Shame on the North for the bottling up of black people in the South and their ill gotten gains from slavery.

Posted by: jbass1 | September 25, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Happy Teacher said: "Don't worry, some of us teachers in the South are able to teach to the standards AND get the truth in there. Not that hard actually..."

Historians have said that One of the reasons we lost Lincoln's War was that we were too civilized! Obviously this teacher is getting the benefits of Southern niceness, and Well, it is a worry, because Some of their ilk teach their students to be ashamed of their Southern ancestry and to hate white people.

Hartford Courant reporters published "How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery - COMPLICITY in 2005. The truth of their research knocked their socks off - who would have known by what they were taught in their Government schools.

Home School people if you want a real education, the empire's system is broke and it should never have been - give control and power back to the people in the states who pay for it!

Erick Rush, a black author, has a new book on Amazon.com that helps to explain a lot about our present problems.

"Negrophilia" From Slavery to American obsession.

Both of these books should be required reading in our school system, but I doubt they will see the light of day. The biased mindset of teachers and media like this one will try to see to that.

Posted by: jbass1 | September 25, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse

'Twas treason, and I speak as a Texan. Sam Houston was agin' it, and he was right as rain.

Posted by: Martial | September 25, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Too bad the states up north don't teach about the laws prohibiting free blacks from living up there, or about the northern mill owners, among other capitalists, who didn't want slavery abolished because it would interrupt the supply of cotton.

There's no sense in evading the whole ugly truth, and that goes for both sides.

Posted by: aed3 | September 25, 2010 10:33 PM | Report abuse

Too bad the states up north don't teach about the laws prohibiting free blacks from living up there, or about the northern mill owners, among other capitalists, who didn't want slavery abolished because it would interrupt the supply of cotton.

aed3, they do. I learned all this in my high school history class in Ohio 42 years ago. Our history teacher was even brave enough to tell us that the Mexican War was not fought to rescue the oppressed Mexicans from a tyrannical government, like our textbook said. But then, he actually had studied history; he wasn't the football coach who was handed a history text and told, "Anybody can teach history. Just have the kids read the chapter and answer the questions." Maybe you weren't as lucky.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | September 25, 2010 11:09 PM | Report abuse

sideswiththekids- It's nice to know that more of a complete picture does exist in some states' curriculum.

I grew up in Virginia, but have also lived in many other parts of the country, including spending my freshman college year in Pennsylvania. That was a really miserable year spent putting up with open ridicule about my accent and frequent accusations of being a stupid racist. I was often asked if I wore shoes at home or if I lived on a tobacco farm. I found that most people's ideas about the Civil War were reduced to cartoonish images of all northerners as noble, idealistic abolitionists and all southerners as either Scarlett O'Haras or stupid, mean idiots out of the movie Deliverance. (Of course, the segregated ghettos I saw in Philadelphia and New Jersey, and the four black students on campus who were referred to as those xxxxx had nothing to do with a legacy of racism, so I was told.)

It's too bad the official textbooks, including those in Virginia, don't give more objective information. I'd like to see more emphasis on the use of primary sources instead of reliance on the kind of reductionist propaganda that is standard textbook fare in most places.

Posted by: aed3 | September 26, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

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