RICHMOND, Va.— Members of a Black fraternity at the College of William and Mary plan to meet with Gov. Bob McDonnell to discuss the contentious issue of Confederate History Month.
The Williamsburg college’s Alpha Phi Alpha chapter cited McDonnell’s proclamation that April is Confederate History Month in declining to attend an awards ceremony. McDonnell honored several recipients of statewide community-service awards at Thursday night’s event.
Chapter President William B. Morris III said Friday that fraternity members were honored to be among the winners of the Governor’s Volunteerism and Community Service Awards for their work as mentors of underprivileged middle-school students. But he says they respectfully chose to sit out the ceremony because McDonnell’s decision to honor a cause that harmed Black people is insulting and improper.
McDonnell said Friday in an interview that he understands the fraternity’s concerns, and his staff is working with Alpha Phi Alpha members to set up a meeting in the near future. He also noted that he had apologized for his initial omission of any mention of slavery in the Confederacy, and amended the proclamation to note that slavery was “evil and inhumane.”
Morris, a junior psychology major, acknowledged McDonnell’s update, but said the Confederacy represents the oppression, degradation and enslavement of an entire set of people. Its legacy has had lasting effects after the Civil War, through the civil rights era and into the present, he said.
Instead of celebrating the Confederacy, perhaps designating a broader “Civil War History Month” would still draw attention to the war’s history and its effects on Virginia and all of its residents, he said.
“If you want to proclaim something that all Virginians can celebrate, why not celebrate Virginia Civil War History Month, and include the stories of slave, free, Black, White, Union and southern people,” he said.
The Republican governor came under heavy attack earlier this month — including remarks from President Barack Obama — after he issued the proclamation at the behest of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. McDonnell was the first Virginia governor to issue such a decree since fellow Republican Jim Gilmore in 2001. Democrats Mark Warner and Kaine, who succeeded Gilmore, refused.