Christina Bellantoni, The Washington Times, Jan. 16, 2004
RICHMOND — Civil War heritage groups are criticizing Gov. Mark Warner for refusing to officially recognize their commemorative events since taking office two years ago.
As Virginians celebrate Lee-Jackson Day today with Mr. Warner’s blessing, the groups are urging the Democratic governor to issue a proclamation for a Civil War History Month, a Confederate History Month or a Union Soldier Month.
Groups on both sides of the Confederate-Union split said Mr. Warner should try to be less politically correct and pay more attention to the historical significance of the war.
However, Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said yesterday the governor has no intention of issuing such proclamations — a decision that is fueling a decades-old debate surrounding Civil War holidays in Virginia, where most of the battles were fought.
“He won’t be doing that,” Miss Qualls said. “It causes too much uproar.”
Miss Qualls said Mr. Warner has commemorated Lee-Jackson Day because of its historical meaning. However, the governor will not issue any proclamations because people start picking apart anything they deem unfavorable to their side, she said.
Still, Mr. Warner’s decision not to issue proclamations has caused an uproar among the heritage groups.
“By trying to appease people and walk an in-between course, he ended up making everyone mad,” said Brag Bowling, commander of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Mr. Bowling wants Mr. Warner to proclaim April as Confederate History Month. He said the governor’s support of Lee-Jackson Day only highlights the need to take the honor further.
“He thinks he is being safe and responsible but he’s angering a lot of people,” Mr. Bowling said.
Ralph R. Miller Jr., commander of the Maryland and Virginia Sons of Union Veterans, said Mr. Warner should issue a proclamation for a Civil War Month or to honor Union soldiers.
“Warner is following the lead of the politically correct people, who don’t want to expose the Civil War,” Mr. Miller said. “To take that education away from the people is wrong. We want the people to think more about it.”
The practice of issuing gubernatorial decrees about the Civil War or the Confederacy dates back at least to former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder’s term.
In 1990, Mr. Wilder, a Democrat, proclaimed April 7 to 15 the “Final Chapter of the Civil War Days,” recalling “those who sacrificed in this great struggle.” His document praised Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, but it also lauded President Lincoln and Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
Also, Mr. Wilder, the nation’s first black governor, did not remove portraits of Lee and Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson from his office while he was governor from 1990 to 1994.
While governor of Virginia, Sen. George Allen, a Republican, issued a Confederate History Month proclamation all four years he was in office, prompting moderate protests. The proclamation was made at the request of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Former Gov. James S. Gilmore III proclaimed April as Confederate History Month three of his four years in office. In his first three proclamations, he added the condemnation of slavery.
In 2000, Mr. Gilmore replaced that proclamation with one commemorating both sides of the Civil War. The new proclamation recognized Lee and Jackson, and Sgt. William H. Carney, a Norfolk man who fled slavery to serve in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers and was awarded the Medal of Honor by Congress.
Mr. Gilmore revised the original proclamation after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) threatened an economic boycott — similar to the one it was staging in South Carolina at the time to remove the Confederate flag from State House grounds. That was the last time the month was officially recognized by Virginia politicians.
Now, Mr. Bowling is working with state Sen. Charles R. Hawkins, Chatham Republican, who will submit a bill to honor Confederate History Month.
“All we want is to honor Virginians who fought and died defending this state,” Mr. Bowling said. “It has nothing to do with slavery.”
“Civil War history attracts thousands of tourists to Virginia,” Mr. Hawkins said. “Recognizing all components of the war adds to people’s understanding of the conflict. People have a tendency to view history in a sterile way, but history is not sterile. It’s blood and sacrifice.”
Miss Qualls said Mr. Warner never promised to honor these holidays when he ran for governor. She said the governor has been honoring many events this week, including a Unity Day celebration that will be held Sunday in Richmond’s Second Presbyterian Church.
The event, which marks a day of racial healing and reconciliation, is being organized by Ken Woodley, an editor at the Farmville Herald. Mr. Woodley said the event, which is inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., is held between Lee-Jackson Day and Martin Luther King Day.
In Virginia, the holiday used to be known as Lee-Jackson-King Day, but the state split the days in 2000. The federal King Day, the third Monday in January, remains King Day in Virginia, and the Friday before that Monday became known as Lee-Jackson Day.
During his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night, Mr. Warner referred to the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. The Board of Education, the case that opened public schools to all children. He called Virginia resident Oliver Hill, who helped lead the legal team that won that case, “a true Virginia hero.”
Mr. Warner also praised John Marshall, son of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who now serves as Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety.
There will be a ceremony at 6 p.m. today in the Old Hall of the House of Delegates to honor native Virginians and Lee and Jackson, who led the Confederate Army during the Civil War.