- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 24, 2005

Southern heritage buffs vow to use the Virginia gubernatorial election as a platform for designating April as Confederate History and Heritage Month.

The four candidates for governor have differing views on whether to pay official state homage to the Confederacy, an issue that has been debated for years in the commonwealth.

“We’re not just a few people making a lot of noise,” said Brag Bowling, a spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the oldest hereditary organization for male descendents of Confederate soldiers. “This is not a racial thing; it is good for Virginia. We’re going to keep pushing this until we get it.”

Each candidate recently shared his thoughts on what Mr. Bowling called a “litmus test for all politicians.” Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine would not support a Confederate History and Heritage Month. Former state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore would support something that recognizes everyone who lived during the Civil War.

Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. and Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch would support a Confederate History and Heritage Month. Many past Virginia governors honored the Civil War or the Confederacy.

In 1990, former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first black governor, a Democrat and a grandson of slaves, issued a proclamation praising both sides of the war and remembering “those who sacrificed in this great struggle.”

Former Govs. George Allen and James S. Gilmore III, both Republicans, issued Confederate History Month proclamations. In 2000, Mr. Gilmore replaced that proclamation with one commemorating both sides of the Civil War — a move that enraged the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, has refused to issue a gubernatorial decree on either side of the Civil War.

Mr. Kaine, another Democrat, would decline to issue a Confederate History and Heritage Month proclamation if he is elected governor, said his campaign spokeswoman, Delacey Skinner.

“He would handle it the same way that Mark Warner has handled it,” Miss Skinner said. “It is a very controversial issue, and the role of state government is to bring people closer together and unify the state, rather than to divide them.

“It’s better to focus on those things we all have in common,” she added.

Mr. Kilgore, a Republican, would support a Confederate History and Heritage Month as long as it “includes recognition of the sacrifice, status and the plight of all who lived during that period of Virginia’s history,” said his campaign spokesman, Tim Murtaugh.

Mr. Fitch, a Republican who will face Mr. Kilgore in the state’s June 14 primary, strongly supports and has campaigned on reinstating Confederate History and Heritage Month. Mr. Fitch thinks it would help promote tourism.

“You either accept the fact and agree to the fact that it is a large part of our Virginia history that should be recognized or you don’t, and I believe it should be recognized,” he said. “If you believe in something, then you should stand up for it and not cower under political correctness.”

Mr. Potts, a Winchester Republican running as an independent, has voted in the past in support of designating a month as Confederate History and Heritage Month. Last year, the Virginia Senate narrowly defeated a Confederate History and Heritage Month resolution on a voice vote, which was not recorded.

“Our history is our history,” Mr. Potts said. “I also support Black History Month. Our young people should know the significance of Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King and our great African-American heroes and also should understand the significance of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.”

The Sons of Confederate Veterans do not endorse political candidates, but Mr. Bowling said members of the heritage community will support those who want the month of April to receive the designation.

He said the issue could swing tens of thousands of voters, considering the estimated 9,000 members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Virginia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, their friends and families, the community of Civil War re-enactors and others who “abhor political correctness.”

Mr. Bowling said former Attorney General Mark L. Earley, a Republican who ran against Mr. Warner for governor in 2001, alienated the heritage community by refusing to honor the Confederacy and lost many votes in the gubernatorial race.

In a survey conducted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans last year, 47.2 percent of Virginia voters agreed the state should have a Confederate History and Heritage Month, but 41.5 percent disagreed.

Of those surveyed, 75.3 percent were white, 12.8 percent were black and 9.5 percent were of other races. Other voters declined to specify their race.

At the state’s annual Shad Planking political gathering last Wednesday, Sons of Confederate Veterans volunteers passed out stickers that read, “I support Confederate History Month,” which many of the nearly 3,000 attendees put beside political campaign stickers.

Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Texas celebrate Confederate History and Heritage Month.

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