Virginia’s proclamation of Confederate History Month without any reference to slavery was unacceptable, President Obama said in an interview broadcast Friday.
“Well, you know, I’m a big history buff. And I think that understanding the history of the Confederacy and understanding the history of the Civil War is something that every American and every young American should be a part of,” he told ABC in an interview taped Thursday.
“Now, I don’t think you can understand the Confederacy and the Civil War unless you understand slavery. And so, I think that was a — an unacceptable omission. I think the governor’s now acknowledged that.”
Obama was referring to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who apologized Wednesday for leaving out any reference to slavery in his recent proclamation designating April as Confederate History Month, calling it a “major omission.”
McDonnell, a Republican, also said he would amend the proclamation.
ABC asked the nation’s first African-American president to weigh in on the controversy.
“I think it’s just a reminder that when we talk about issues like slavery that are so fraught with pain and emotion, that we’d better do so thinking through how this is going to affect a lot of people, and their sense of whether they’re part of a commonwealth or part of our broader society.”
McDonnell’s written apology said, “The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed.”
“The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War,” the statement said. “Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation.”
The new language added to the proclamation says that “it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights.”
It adds that “all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our orders.”
McDonnell’s statement noted that while Virginia was home to the capital of the Confederacy, it was also the first state in the nation to elect an African-American governor, L. Douglas Wilder, whom McDonnell called “my friend.”
McDonnell is the first Virginia governor in eight years to issue a proclamation declaring April as Confederate History Month.
Two previous Democratic administrations refused to do so.