When pressed, McDonnell explained that he chose only to focus on issues that were the most pertinent to Virginia:
[T]here were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.Republican Governor George Allen first recognized Confederate History Month in 1997. His successor, Republican James Gilmore, did so as well, but his proclamation condemned slavery. The next two governors -- Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine -- declined to celebrate Confederate History Month, believing that doing so strained race relations.
McDonnell certainly has the right to recognize the Confederacy, but his pathetic attempt to downplay the role of slavery in Virginia warrants massive condemnation. As a colony, Virginia was the earliest site of African slavery. Also, Virginia was one of the leading destinations for slaves from Africa. Furthermore, Virginia had the largest slave population when the Civil War began -- even though smaller states like Mississippi and South Carolina had larger percentages of slaves relative to the general population.
Tellingly, when Virginia decided to join the Confederacy, western counties in the state decided to secede from Virginia -- creating the state of West Virginia. Contrary to conditions in eastern Virginia, slavery was virtually nonexistent in western Virginia, which made the state's decision to join the Confederacy unpopular in the western counties.
If McDonnell is as courageous as his supporters claim he is, then he should own up to all aspects of his celebration of the Confederacy. Running from the ugly parts of history does not negate history or its lingering effects.
McDonnell's deceitful cowardice reminds me of the Mississippi parents, students and school officials who held a secret prom, while sending Constance McMillen, an openly lesbian student, to a fake event. It is clear that McMillen has more courage than the homophobes in the town. McDonnell should exhibit the same courage and embrace all of the aspects of Confederate History Month. If he does not feel comfortable doing so, perhaps he should rethink the decision to celebrate this loathesome history in the first place.
UPDATE: Facing political heat, McDonnell has suddenly shifted his position. See: Update: Someone With A Brain Writes An Apology for Virginia Governor Regarding Slavery.