Grace Elizabeth Hale: Confederate History is All About Race

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Grace Elizabeth Hale is an associate professor of history and American studies at the University of Virginia and author of "Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940 (Vintage, 1999)" and the forthcoming book "A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle-Class Fell in Love with Rebellion in Postwar America," to be published this year by Oxford University Press.]

It has been eight years since people in my state of Virginia got a chance to debate the meaning of the Civil War in front of the nation, and the comments posted on CNN and other news Web sites suggest our passion over the topic has not dimmed.

If Governor Bob McDonnell wants his fellow Virginians to think deeply about "how our history has led to our present," then his declaration of April as Confederate History Month has accomplished this goal, if not exactly in the manner he intended.

The problem with the celebration of Confederate History Month, however, goes far beyond McDonnell's "mistake" in not discussing the centrality of slavery in the Civil War in his original proclamation.

Confederate "history" means more than the four years during which Virginia and other states fought a war to form a separate country called the Confederate States of America. It refers to the many uses of Confederate symbols and evocations of Confederate history in the almost century-and-a-half since Appomattox as well.

This long history offers nothing to memorialize. Former Confederate soldiers quickly formed the Ku Klux Klan after the war to attack Reconstruction officials and the black and white Republicans who were trying to run the state, and they sometimes displayed Confederate symbols as part of their work. After congressional hearings shut down the Klan, copycat organizations continued to make use of Confederate symbols as they engaged in acts of political terrorism....

Historically, Confederate versions of the past and Confederate symbols have meant opposition to equal rights for all Americans. In officially recognizing Confederate History Month, Gov. McDonnell is asking Virginians to join together in celebration of this history of white supremacy.

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Patrick Murray - 4/19/2010

Amendment IV: Section III
"The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several States; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or or Territories of the Confederate States."

So much for "states rights." The states could not outlaw slavery.