Black lawmakers in the Virginia General Assembly are planning to formally boycott events in the Historic Triangle this week celebrating the 400th anniversary of representative government in the Western Hemisphere, arguing that the commemoration will be “tarnished unduly” by President Donald Trump’s scheduled appearance Tuesday.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus announced Monday that its members would participate in alternative events to commemorate both the anniversary of the first legislative gathering and the arrival of the first captive Africans to North American shores. Both events took place in the summer of 1619.
Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, who is part of the 20-person caucus and also is a member of the steering committee for the commemoration, said she was not consulted on the president’s invitation.
“If I had been asked my opinion, I certainly would have expressed that the President’s offensive and inappropriate tweets have not added value or been aligned with Democracy,” McQuinn said in a statement. “I choose to stand with others who cherish democracy.”
Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, had joined in inviting Trump last year, along with House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, and Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City.
As part of the alternative programming, members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus will attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Virginia Capitol to commemorate deceased black lawmakers and will later gather at the site of Lumpkin’s Jail, a slave jail active from the early 1800s through the Civil War.
There, they’ll be joined by Rep. Don McEachin, D-4th, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Richmond City Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille.
Four Democratic leaders in the General Assembly and Stoney also have said they would not participate in the events after learning of Trump’s planned attendance.
They specifically referenced Trump’s recent comments about a group of female, minority members of Congress this month.
In a tweet, Trump proposed that the four women “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Only one of the four congresswomen was born outside the United States, and all are U.S. citizens.
“The absence of the VLBC will send the message that the members do not condone the president’s participation and all that is represented by his attending this commemoration,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond. “Those who have chosen to attend and remain silent are complicit in the atrocities that he incites.”
McClellan said the caucus will focus its attention Tuesday on “those individuals who fought for a more just, equitable and inclusive democracy.”
Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, who is chairman of the caucus, said there is no shortage of information on “what the last 400 years have looked like for minority communities in our country,” adding, “As black leaders in the legislature, the [caucus] has a responsibility to ensure that the next 400 years empower and unify our commonwealth and country.”