I have very mixed thoughts about the new Virginia Governor declaring April "Confederate History Month."
In terms of American history, it is very important to learn about and understand all aspects regarding the history of the Confederacy. Its formation, of course, led to the deadliest war on American soil. The political, economic and social issues surrounding the Confederacy raised important questions regarding our understanding of the powers and limits of the U.S. Constitution, and those questions were mostly settled (in spite of the neo-secessionist and neo-nullification rhetoric coming, ironically, from politicians from the old Confederate states (and a few others)).
Yet, some of the language within the proclamation troubles me. For example, "[w]hereas, it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth's shared history to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War," bothers me. Perhaps it's that whole slave heritage in my family thing that makes me bristle at the notion of "the sacrifices" of Confederates, particularly when compared to "the sacrifices" of Virginia's slave and free black populations from the middle 1600s until the passage of the 13th Amendment). And even if the average Virginia Confederate soldier or sailor didn't own a slave, or was concerned only with defending his home, the end result would have been a continuation of black slavery, period. I will not apologize for feeling a bit less sanguine about Confederate sacrifices, just as, I am sure, some descendants of Confederate soldiers or sailors felt (or feel) about Union sacrifices.
Another trouble spot for me is as follows: "Whereas, all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army, the surviving, imprisoned and injured Confederate soldiers gave their word and allegiance to the United States of America, and returned to their homes and families to rebuild their communities in peace...." I think that a quick review of the history of Reconstruction and Redemption will belie the notion that these folks worked to rebuild their communities in peace, overall. They did work to reassert their authority based on white supremacy, legalized segregation and political disenfranchisement, cancers allowed to fester unchecked until the middle 20th century.
My concern is that those who have pushed for this recognition, have neither the desire, nor the intention, to discuss the multi-layered historical reality surrounding the rise, fall, and psuedo-resurrection of the Confederacy, faults and all. Instead, I think that this is an opportunity to glorify the "Lost Cause," to cloud the fact that the Confederacy was a direct threat to the political entity that we know as the United States, and to try to sell the notion that the Confederacy was formed, not to preserve slavery (though CSA Vice President Alexander Stephens, through his "Cornerstone Speech" seems to belie this), but to affirm states rights that they felt the U.S. was abrogating.
Again, I am all for people learning more about American history. We are woefully deficient in that area. I also believe that we should know more about the history of the Confederacy, because there is no denying its historical importance. But I do not believe in a single sided historical narrative, regardless of subject. History has been, is, and always will be a complicated enterprise, fraught with difficult questions and issues. It seems that, too often, too many supporters of Confederate History Month proclamations are not really interested in those things. And therein rests my discomfort with promoting Confederate History Month.
UPDATE: A good friend of mine made an excellent proposition. I think that declaring April "Civil War History Month" would be totally appropriate, especially considering that the war came to a close in Appomattox. It would hit all of the educational points that the Governor says Virginians should get this month, and it would allow for a greater chance for having those more interesting and complicated discussions that all of the historical information surrounding the Civil War, particularly in Virginia, would merit.