Matthew Wright, Daily Mail, August 14, 2020
The residents of a Virginia town are demanding their mayor resign after said in a Facebook post that Joe Biden ‘just announced Aunt Jemima’ as his running mate.
Luray Mayor Barry Presgraves posted the offensive remarks on his Facebook page in a now deleted post last weekend.
The town of Luray has a population of less than 5,000 people, with the majority of them being white. The town has a four per cent black population, according to census data.
Biden announced that he had chosen Kamala Harris to be his running mate on Tuesday.
In June, Quaker Oats acknowledged that Aunt Jemima’s origins were based on a racial stereotype of a ‘mammy’ and announced that the company would be removing the image and name.
Presgraves apologized on Facebook and at a town council meeting on Monday night, after he was slammed by residents and members of the Luray Town Council, NBC News reports.
‘I want to make this very clear to everyone with absolutely no qualifications,’ Presgraves said. ‘I understand what I posted on social media was wrong, offensive and unbecoming.’
The 77-year-old said the remarks did not reflect his heart.
‘I also want to make a direct apology to all people of color and women. Passing off demeaning and worn out racial stereotypes as humor isn’t funny,’ he said, reading from a prepared statement. ‘I now fully understand how hurtful it is and I can and will do better and we can all do better. We must.
‘From the bottom of my heart, I am sorry and humbly ask for your forgiveness and your grace.’
Luray Council Member Leah Pence sent Presgraves an email on Monday demanding that he resign.
‘I am writing to strongly urge you to resign over a racist comment you made on Facebook,’ she said in the email. ‘The comment you posted has a type of humor that not been appropriate or funny in my lifetime or yours.
‘While a resignation alone will not resolve the systemic subliminal racism that plagues our community, your resignation is imperative as we work towards ending racism in our community.
‘You are accountable for your words and decisions as the leader of The Town of Luray and your recent actions have caused me and many citizens to lose faith and confidence in your capacity to effectively and justly serve as Mayor of The Town of Luray.’
Steve Burke, town manager, said the town council can’t remove the mayor but courts could weigh in.
‘The residents do have the ability to petition the court for removal of elected officials,’ Burke said.
The town council voted 5 to 1 to censure Presgraves for what they described as ‘his choice of harmful words posted on social media.’ Councilwoman Pence voted no, Burke shared.
‘While the town council affirms the freedom of speech guaranteed by the U.S Constitution, as elected officials, we are held to a higher standard within our communities,’ the town council said. ‘Statements by public officials have a powerful impact on the community.’
They added: ‘Your apology is a step towards reconciliation with our citizens, however damage both internal and external to our community remains.’
The town council told Presgraves that they expect his ‘highest level of commitment and dedication to serving all citizens of Luray.’
During Monday’s meeting, residents came forward and asked the mayor to resign.
‘I’ve been here all my life. Almost 70 years. And today, I’m hurt,’ said Barbara Veney, 69.
Veney, who had a father who was black and white and a mother who was Indian and black, shared that she was not taught to racist.
She added that she was taught ‘what comes out the mouth can hurt and you have to be careful what you speak because words do hurt.’
‘We need somebody with positive thinking that will shape this community. No more dividing,’ she said. ‘In order for us to move on… I’m asking you today, Mr. Mayor, that you step down in love — because I love you — and do the right thing.’
Presgraves shared on Monday that he had no intention of stepping down. He is not seeking reelection.
‘Hell no, I’m not resigning,’ he told the Page Valley News. ‘The people elected me and I have a few months more to serve.’
The mayor did share that he was surprised by the backlash.
‘I thought it was humorous,’ he said. ‘I had no idea people would react the way they did. I think people have gone overboard on this … It’s an election year.’