A Virginia mayor is facing calls for his resignation over a Facebook post in which he said that Joe Biden “just announced Aunt Jemima” as his vice-presidential running mate.
Luray Mayor Barry Presgraves posted the comment last weekend on his Facebook page. The comment was condemned by a council member, town officials and other residents before he took it down that same weekend.
Luray is about 90 miles west of Washington, D.C.
A number of Black women were on Biden’s running mate short list, including Florida Rep. Val Demings; California Rep. Karen Bass, who leads the Congressional Black Caucus; Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; and Susan Rice, the former national security adviser to President Barack Obama.
Presgraves apologized at a town council meeting on Monday night.
“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.”
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Presgraves, 77, added that it does not reflect what is in 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.”
He concluded his statement by saying, “From the bottom of my heart, I am sorry and humbly ask for your forgiveness and your grace.”
Barbara Veney, 69, a Luray resident, addressed Pregraves directly at the meeting.
“I’ve been here all my life. Almost 70 years. And today, I’m hurt,” she said.
Veney told Presgraves she was not there to tear him down or speak ill of him but that she had to stand 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 the mouth can hurt and you have to be careful what you speak because words do hurt,” she said.
“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.”
Council member Leah Pence urged Presgraves to resign in an email she sent to him last Monday morning.
Pence told Presgraves that the comment he posted “has a type of humor that has not been appropriate or funny” in either of their lifetimes, according to a copy of the email she posted on her Facebook page.
“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,” Pence wrote, adding that Presgraves is accountable for his words and decisions. She also told the Presgraves that his recent actions have caused many residents in the small town “to lose faith and confidence” in his capacity to effectively and justly serve as mayor.
In a statement posted to its Facebook page last Monday, the town of Luray said they “reject racism” and are committed to working together with the community through understanding, compassion, and opportunity. The statement did not name Presgraves, but said the town council would discuss the events leading to the statement at its meeting Monday night.
Presgraves could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. He told the Page Valley News last Monday that he will not step down.
“Hell no, I’m not resigning,” he told the newspaper. “The people elected me and I have a few months more to serve.”
Presgraves, who is not running for reelection, told the newspaper that he did not anticipate 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.”