Civil War Still Divides Opinions

Majority think that Civil War still relevant to today's politics

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Reenactors fire mortars from the Pitt Street Bridge towards Fort Sumter, to commemorate the moment the first shots of the Civil War were fired 150 years ago in Charleston, S.C. on Tuesday, April 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Alice Keeney)

    Last year, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell drew criticism from civil rights groups and President Obama when he declared April 2010 "Confederate History Month." 

    McDonnell received warmer reviews when he declared this April "Civil War History Month," specifically addressing the state's legacy of slavery.

    McDonnell learned the hard way what a recent Pew Center poll has revealed: the Civil War still divides American opinions.

    When asked what the leading cause was of the Civil War, 48 percent of the study's respondents said it was about states' rights (the most popular response.)  That's compared to 38 percent of respondents, who said the Civil War was mostly about slavery.  Nine percent said both issues were equally important, and six percent said they did not know.

    Pew Research polled 1,507 adults in the study.

    Also in the poll, 46 percent of respondents said it was inappropriate for public officials to praise Confederate leaders, with 36 percent saying it was appropriate.

    Last year, McDonnell issued a proclamation which asked Virginians to "understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers, and citizens during the period of the Civil War."  Confederate History Month was originally introduced by former Virginia governor George Allen in 1997, a tradition followed by his successor, James Gilmore.  The two succeeding Democrat governors dropped the ceremonial designation, but it was revived by McDonnell last year.

    This year, McDonnell's statement on Civil War Month cites the importance of Robert E. Lee to Virginia's history, but also notes the actions of William Harvey Carney, an escaped slave who served with the Union army.  His statement also included a prominent paragraph condemning the practice of slavery, which he acknowledged as part of Virginia's heritage.

    In the poll, most felt ambivalent about the Confederate Flag. While some groups have decried it as a racially charged symbol, 58 percent of those polled said they had neither positive nor negative feelings toward the flag.  Only 9 percent had positive feelings towards the flag, and 30 percent felt negatively.

    Earlier this month, a teacher in Norfolk, Va., drew parents' anger when she divided her fourth-grade class according to race and held a mock slave auction.

    With a major event coming up to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Manassas, the Civil War remains a charged topic in both the local and national conversation.