When Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell declared April 'Confederate History Month' and overlooked slavery in his proclamation, a well deserved firestorm ensued. As an elementary school student I was taught that the Civil War was fought over slavery. By time I reached college, I learned about more complicated issues involving regional economics, foreign trade policy, and industrialization.
When it was all said and done, the Civil War was over slavery. No slavery, no war.
In his proclamation, McDonnell wrote that Virginians should "understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War."
Writing in the Nation, Melissa Harris-Lacewell eloquently expressed the feelings of the millions of descendants of slaves:
As I child I lived in the shadow of Monticello. As a teen I lived on Jefferson Davis Highway, and there I discovered the other Virginia history. This is the Virginia history that is etched in the stony faces of confederate traitors who line Monument Avenue in Richmond. This narrative of Virginia laments the end of slavery, romanticizes traitorous action against the state and memorializes sedition. This history is built on a false and romantic notion of an imagined Confederate past that refuses to acknowledged the ways that slavery degraded not only black labor, but white labor; how it destroyed the land; and how it starved the region of innovation.
Going back to my own youth, I found that the romantic portrayal of the ante-bellum south to be a gross distortion of the truth. As Harris-Lacewell notes, little has changed for many Americans in the past fifty years.