- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, trying to find middle ground between black leaders and Southern heritage groups, yesterday replaced his yearly Confederate History Month proclamation with one commemorating both sides in the Civil War.

The Republican governor's three previous proclamations, issued each April, spoke of the "noble spirit and inspiring leadership of great Confederate generals" while also condemning slavery.

This year's proclamation has an even stronger condemnation of slavery, but mutes praise for the Confederacy with historical recognition of the Civil War and those who fought on both sides.

"This is the right approach to bring all Virginians together," Mr. Gilmore told reporters.

But judging by early reaction to his nod to the Union side, the governor angered Southern heritage groups instead.

"This is an army which invaded Virginia and killed thousands of its citizens and burned farms, and killed livestock and raped women this is what he's honoring here. He's knuckled right under what the NAACP wanted," said Brag Bowling, a leader in the Virginia chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

A half-dozen officials from Virginia's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the state Southern Christian Leadership Conference either didn't return phone calls yesterday or said they hadn't seen the proclamation.

But former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first elected black governor who consulted with Mr. Gilmore on the proclamation, told the Associated Press it was a positive step.

"It removes the celebratory nature of the cause for any groups and it recognizes the great American tragedy and says, in essence, that while much was lost, we need to move our state forward and our nation forward," said Mr. Wilder, a Democrat.

Other Southern states have similar proclamations. While governor of Virginia, Sen. George F. Allen, a Republican, issued a Confederate History Month proclamation all four years he was in office, prompting moderate protests.

When Mr. Gilmore took office, he added the condemnation of slavery. That outraged heritage groups at the time, but the issue didn't spark much protest among black leaders until last year.

The NAACP turned up the heat on Virginia by threatening an economic boycott similar to the one it is staging in South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from State House grounds if Mr. Gilmore again issued a Confederate History Month proclamation.

The governor promised to rethink it. He considered issuing the same proclamation, not issuing one, and even stopping proclamations altogether. In the end, he decided to change the wording to try to strike a balance.

The new version recognizes Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, both Confederate generals from Virginia. But it also recognizes 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.

"This is 100 times better than what it was last year," said Bishop Gerald O. Glenn, pastor of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Chesterfield County, outside Richmond.

Mr. Glenn led the opposition last year when Chesterfield adopted its own proclamation for Confederate History Month and was the first voice calling on Mr. Gilmore to change his proclamation.

Mr. Gilmore has made racial inclusiveness a priority. He has appointed several black Cabinet members, tried to close the "digital divide" that can leave minority students without access to computers and the Internet, and even separated the Martin Luther King holiday from the state's traditional Lee-Jackson holiday.

As new chairman of the Republican National Committee, Mr. Gilmore has made a point of trying to appeal directly to black voters in interviews on Black Entertainment Television.

"He's really hurting the Republican Party by doing stuff like this," Mr. Bowling said.

For his part, Mr. Gilmore denied that he had caved in to pressure.

"I would hope people don't see this as a situation of caving or not caving. I don't think many people think of me as a caver. I don't cave much," he said.

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