And then, last week, the contretemps over McDonnell’s proclaiming April as Confederate History Month, without even mentioning the issue of slavery, a blatant cave-in to those who cling to the romantic, phony myths about Virginia’s past. The move was so blatant and so ugly that the New Virginia immediately began fighting back against this literal whitewashing of history and McDonnell soon conceded that he had made a big mistake and apologized.
But it shouldn’t have been necessary for blacks and their allies to protest for a 21st-century governor to know that paying homage to the legacy of the traitors who were willing to dismantle the nation in order to preserve their right to hold other human beings in bondage—men whose triumphant images are enshrined in statues along Richmond’s Monument Avenue—is divisive and offensive. As Obama reminded us in an interview with ABC, “when we talk about issues like slavery that are so fraught with pain and emotion, that, you know, we’d better do so thinking through how this is going to affect a lot of people.” Amen to that, but in McDonnell’s and Cuccinelli’s Virginia, I’m not sure that message is being heard. These days, when I drive home to Richmond from my day job in Washington, I get that same clench-jawed, hard-eyed alert but wary attitude my dad used to put on when we drove into Virginia 50 years ago.
Jack White is a regular contributor to The Root.