A Virginia mayor is facing calls for his resignation in a Facebook post in which he said Joe Biden “just announced Aunt Jemima” as his candidate friend.
Luray Mayor Barry Presgraves posted the comment last weekend on his Facebook page. The comment was condemned by Luray City Council members and other residents before he dismissed it that same weekend.
Luray is a city of less than 5,000 people, most of them white, according to the latest census data. Four percent of the population is Black. The city is about 90 miles west of Washington, DC
Biden named California Senator Kamala Harris as his husband on Tuesday.
A number of Black women were on Biden̵7;s husband’s shortlist, including Wally Rep. Val Demings; California Rep. Karen Bass, who leads the Congressional Black Group; Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; and Susan Rice, a former national security adviser to President Barack Obama.
Presgraves apologized at a city council meeting Monday night.
“I want to make this very clear to everyone without any qualifications,” Presgraves said. “I understand what I posted on social media was wrong, insulting and unbelievable.”
Presgraves, 77, added that he does not reflect what is in his heart.
“I also want to make a direct apology to all people of color and women. Getting rid of wrongdoing and tired of racial stereotypes like humor is not funny,” he said, reading out a prepared statement. “Now I fully understand how harmful it is and can and will do better and we can all do better. We should.”
He concluded his statement by saying, “From the bottom of my heart, I am sorry and humbly ask for your forgiveness and grace.”
Barbara Veney, 69, a Luray resident, addressed Pregrave directly at the meeting.
“I’ve been here my whole life. Almost 70 years. And today, I’m hurt,” she said.
Veney told Presgraves that he was not there to kidnap her or speak ill of her, but that she should stand up for what is right. Veney said her father was black and white, her mother was Indian and black and that she was not taught to be racist. She was taught “what comes out of the mouth can hurt and you have to be careful what you say because words hurt,” she said.
“We need someone with positive thoughts who will shape this community. There is no more division,” she said. “In order for us to move forward … I’m asking you today, Mr. President, to fall in love – because I love you – and do the right thing.”
At least one resident at the meeting said he did not consider the Facebook comment racist. Another resident said he did not believe the mayor intended his comments to be racist “although in context, they were many”.
Quaker Foods North America tossed out the image and name of Aunt Jemima in mid-June, saying they recognize the character’s origins based on “a racial stereotype” of a Black “midwife” raising her master’s white children.
Council member Leah Pence sent an email to Presgraves last Monday morning urging him to resign.
Pence told Presgrave that the comment he posted “has a kind of humor that was not appropriate or funny” in any of their durations, according to a copy of the email she posted on her Facebook page.
“While a resignation alone will not solve the systemic subliminal racism that plagues our community, your resignation is imperative as we work towards ending racism in our community,” Pence wrote, adding that Presgraves is responsible for his words and decisions.
She also told Presgrave that his recent actions have caused many residents in the small town to “lose faith and confidence” in his ability to “serve effectively and fairly” as mayor.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page last Monday, the city of Luray said they “oppose racism” and are committed to working together with the community through understanding, compassion and opportunity. The statement did not name Presgraves, but said the city council would discuss the events that led to the statement at its meeting Monday night.
Presgraves did not immediately return an interview request on Thursday. He told Page Valley News last Monday that he would not retire.
“Hell no, I’m not resigning,” he told the newspaper. “People chose me and I have a few more months to serve.”
Presgraves, who is not running for re-election, told the newspaper that he did not anticipate his remark being met with reactions.
“I thought it was humorous,” he said. “I had no idea people reacting the way they did. I think people have gone in that direction … It’s an election year.”