[Updated at 6:28 p.m.] Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said Wednesday that his recent proclamation designating April as Confederate History Month "contained a major omission."
"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," McDonnell said in a written statement. "The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War. 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. In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly approved a formal statement of 'profound regret' for the Commonwealth's history of slavery, which was the right thing to do.
McDonnell also noted that while Virginia had been the Capitol of the Confederacy, it was also the first state in the nation to elect an African-American governor. "America's history has been written in Virginia," McDonnell said. "We cannot avoid our past; instead we must demand that it be discussed with civility and responsibility."
[Posted at 3:47 p.m.] For the first time in eight years, Virginia's Republican governor has issued a proclamation declaring April as Confederate History Month in the state, drawing criticism from Democrats and a civil rights group.
"It is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth's shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present," Gov. Robert McDonnell's seven-paragraph proclamation reads in part.
He quietly made the declaration after two previous Democratic administrations refused to do so.
"This defining chapter in Virginia's history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians," the governor's proclamation reads.
It does not mention slavery.
"I wish he would have followed the examples of Gov. [Mark] Warner and Gov. [Tim] Kaine, but obviously he has declined to do so," state Sen. Don McEachin, a Democrat, told CNN affiliate WWBT. "I also find it interesting that while he issues his proclamation, there's no mention of slavery."
The Virginia chapter of the NAACP also condemned the proclamation, The Washington Post reported. The group did not immediately return phone calls to CNN.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans asked the governor to declare the month Confederate History Month. Virginia seceded from the union on April 17, 1861.
Brandon Dorsey, a spokesman for the group, told CNN Radio that Confederate History Month isn't about slavery or race, but about studying the 4-year history of the Confederacy. He said it will also help draw visitors to the many Civil War battle sites in Virginia, helping to boost tourism.
"The proclamation's main goal is to call attention to the fact that there is Confederate history in the state of Virginia, of course, across the South. It's simply a tool to expose individuals to that history. It's not a mandate in any way. It's a symbolic gesture."
He said the group doesn't consider the history of the Confederacy or Virginia's Confederate History Month racially divisive. "It's not meant to discriminate against anybody," he said.
He said that the Confederacy wasn't about continuing the institution of slavery, but that it was really about the states' rights vs. the rights of the federal government. He said there were abolitionists in the group.
Other Southern states have issued similar proclamations for April. In Alabama, Republican Gov. Bob Riley declared April, the month the Civil War began, as Confederate History and Heritage Month. The statement condemns slavery.