Marsh

Former state Sen. Henry L. Marsh III displays the key to the city presented to him by Mayor Dwight C. Jones on May 20, 2016.

Henry Marsh, Roy West, Walter Kenney, Leonidas Young, Larry Chavis, Rudy McCollum, Douglas Wilder and Dwight Jones.

All of the above are African-Americans; all served as mayors of Richmond.

According to Joe Morrissey’s campaign manager, if elected Morrissey would become the “real first black mayor of Richmond.” When outrage ensued, Deborah Repp said she had been taken out of context. She was invoking the comments of Toni Morrison that Bill Clinton was the first black president, Repp explained. Morrissey said he disagreed with his factotum. Others expressed their disgust.

The statement insults Henry Marsh in particular. Named Richmond’s first black mayor in 1977, Marsh devoted his career to civil rights. A product of segregated schools, he was graduated from Virginia Union University and earned his law degree from Howard University. He became a professional colleague of Oliver Hill, the legendary civil rights attorney named by The Times-Dispatch as the greatest Virginian of the 20th century. Marsh won numerous cases regarding employment discrimination. He challenged Massive Resistance. He was elected to Richmond’s City Council in 1966. After Richmond went to single-member council districts, his fellow council-members elected Marsh mayor in 1977. Marsh subsequently served in the General Assembly. Marsh’s civil rights credentials are impeccable. Douglas Wilder followed a similar trajectory.

In 1969, Wilder became the first black elected to the Virginia Senate since Reconstruction. He later became the first black elected lieutenant governor, and in 1989, the first black elected governor of any state. In 2004, Wilder became Richmond’s first popularly elected mayor. The L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University bears a distinguished name. Wilder remains an insightful commentator on Virginia politics.

Richmond has proved a center of black aspirations and accomplishments. Marsh, Wilder, Hill and others struggled against the Byrd Organization and centuries of racial repression. The church where Patrick Henry said “give me liberty or give me death” looks upon a slave market. The statues on Monument Avenue honor Confederates who fought to perpetuate the peculiar institution. Virginia preferred to close the schools rather than integrate them. Long before Morrissey appeared in headlines, Richmond’s African-Americans persevered. They even won election as mayor. Their triumphs over injustice were real. Morrissey’s campaign is unreal.

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