Close to 20 state lawmakers who chose not to attend events commemorating the 400th anniversary of democracy in Virginia instead attended a ceremony in Richmond recognizing the 400th anniversary of slavery.
The ceremony, organized by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, was held at the Lumpkin's Slave Jail site in Shockoe Bottom, the second largest hub of the slave trade in America before the Civil War.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement saying its 20 members would boycott the 400th commemoration events organized by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, citing "botched planning" and an invitation to President Donald Trump that came from Gov. Ralph Northam and Republican legislative leaders.
Over 100 attended.
“Our purpose here today is to listen to our ancestors," said Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, chairman of the black caucus, speaking from a stage at the jail site. "They are crying out for us to stand up in such a time as this. You don’t have to be black, you don’t have to be of color, but stand up and be accounted for.”
Responding to criticism that the lawmakers should have been in Jamestown, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said the group was in the right place at the right time.
“This country was not only built on the backs of enslaved Africans … it was also built on the values, the principles of liberty and freedom. The same values that were not afforded to our ancestors," Stoney said. "There is nothing more American than raising a voice to authority. There is nothing more American than raising a voice to injustice.”
Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, responded to being called petty and childish for not attending the Jamestown events.
"My brothers and sisters, I don’t feel like being gracious today," she said. "I cannot be gracious in the face of racism and xenophobia. I cannot be gracious when people who are seeking asylum are caged at our borders and sitting in unsanitary conditions.”
McQuinn, a pastor and member of the Richmond Slave Trail Commission, choked up in a closing speech. She said she cried when thinking of Trump's recent statement that four minority, female members of Congress - three of whom were born in the United States - should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."
“He wasn’t just speaking to those four women of color," McQuinn said. "He was speaking to every person of color in the United States of America."
U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th, also spoke at the ceremony. Attorney General Mark Herring, the only declared candidate for governor in 2021, attended and sat in the audience.
The jail site, located between Interstate 95 and ongoing construction around Richmond's Main Street station train shed, is not easy to locate. Event organizers put up a makeshift sign and two balloons on a fence on Broad Street so attendees would know where to go.
Dignitaries ended the ceremony by laying a memorial wreath of commemoration for African ancestors.