Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Confederate History Month fight: Obama rebukes Virginia governor

President Obama said it was 'unacceptable' for the Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell, not to mention slavery when reinstating Confederate History Month.

By Staff writer / April 9, 2010

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell walks out of the State Capitol on March 31, 2010. McDonnell sparked controversy by issuing a proclamation to reinstate Confederate History Month without every mentioning slavery, an omission that President Obama said is 'unacceptable.'

Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP/File



President Obama has waded again into America's uncomfortable race debate, this time taking on a persistent view of the Civil War: that slavery was not what primarily caused it.

Skip to next paragraph

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) invited an uproar after deciding to reinstate Confederate History Month without mentioning "slavery." That word had been included in previous Confederate heritage proclamations. (Governor McDonnell later apologized and added language that painted slavery as a cause of the war and as a "hateful" institution.)

"I don't think you can understand the Confederacy and the Civil War unless you understand slavery,'' said Mr. Obama, who sent a wreath, as presidents have done since Woodrow Wilson, to the Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery last Memorial Day. (Moreover, first lady Michelle Obama is a descendant of Southern slaves.)

McDonnell's initial omission of slavery in his proclamation was "unacceptable," Obama said.

The president's statements, made to ABC News correspondent George Stephanopoulos, were an unusually harsh rebuke – reminiscent of his first comments on the controversial arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. last summer at his home in Cambridge, Mass.

Obama's entry into the debate about the Confederate legacy shows that the president, though careful, speaks his mind about race when he feels it's warranted. Indeed, says one expert on race in America, the subject of race becomes ripe for discussion after certain events.