By Raleigh News & Observer
How should the South deal with the legacy of the Civil War, which in 2011 enters its 150th anniversary year? How should it memorialize the war dead, and confront the causes of the conflict, and the aftermath?
And, not to be too crass about it, how can it cash in on widespread interest in the Confederacy?
Those questions are at the core of the controversy Gov. Bob McDonnell stepped into in Virginia. After proclaiming April as Confederate History Month, celebrating the sacrifices of the soldiers in gray, he was rightly attacked from his left flank for forgetting to mention slavery, the war’s essential cause. The governor properly retreated, inserting language labeling slavery evil and inhumane.
McDonnell may wish he governed Georgia, one of seven states that routinely proclaim a Confederate History Month. Last year Georgia did away with any annual fuss by making April’s designation permanent. North Carolina, which is not among the seven, makes do with Confederate Memorial Day, observed here each May 10, the date of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ capture in 1865.
Surely the South, and particularly North Carolina, which bore the heaviest burden, is entitled to memorialize its dead. Beyond that, the war’s legacy offers many ways to reflect on the earth-shaking events that happened here – and to attract plenty of tourists.
Well-preserved battlefield sites are of surpassing interest to military history buffs and ordinary folks. North Carolina has lagged in this, but the Bentonville battleground is shaping up, as is Bennett Place in Durham, where Johnston surrendered to Sherman. Historic plantations offer a chance to reflect on slavery, women’s lives and the cotton economy. Granite statues, such as that at our Capitol, not only honor the dead but serve as artifacts from a period of “Lost Cause” glorification – tied to white supremacy – at the turn of the 20th century. We can learn from all this and more.
In short, there is nothing wrong with proclaiming our Civil War history if we take in all of it.
- Raleigh News & Observer