April 11, 2010
In the 1960s, I had a very unusual and very memorable experience that I'd like to tell you about. I was reminded of it recently as a result of the flap that followed the proclamation issued by Virgina Governor Robert McDonnell proclaiming April as Confederate History Month.
In his proclamation McDonnell focused on those "who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth." In addition, he urged people today to understand "the sacrifice of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War."
But he did not mention slavery. An uproar about the omission of slavery followed. As a result, McDonnell amended his proclamation to mention slavery.
This brings me to the experience I mentioned above. One summer in the 1960s, I worked in a summer program for black inner-city students, along with a number of other recent college graduates about my age.
One of the black college graduates on the staff of the program ran a workshop on black history for the high-school students in the program. As part of his workshop on black history, he asked me and another white staffer to prepare a debate about slavery in which we would prepare suitable speeches and dress up in period costumes for the debate. The other fellow was to play the role of the abolitionist Daniel Webster (1782-1852). I was to play the role of John C. Calhoun (1782-1850).