Virginia Black Caucus boycotting 400th anniversary events over Trump, slavery

Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus is boycotting Tuesday’s events marking 400 years of English-style representative government in what is now the United States.

The boycott is due to a planned speech by President Donald Trump and concerns that the separation of the commemorative session from other ceremonies in coming weeks marking 400 years since the first arrival of enslaved Africans in Virginia minimizes the significance of slavery.

Some other Democratic members of the Virginia General Assembly had already indicated they would not be present during Trump’s address to lawmakers, but the black caucus Monday urged a total boycott of this week’s events in Historic Jamestowne.

“The commemoration of the birth of this nation and its democracy will be tarnished unduly with the participation of the president, who continues to make degrading comments toward minority leaders, promulgate policies that harm marginalized communities, and use racist and xenophobic rhetoric,” the caucus said in a statement.

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Instead, the caucus plans three alternative events Tuesday in Richmond: a wreath laying remembering black lawmakers, a commemoration of the first documented arrival of enslaved Africans to Virginia, and a visit to the Virginia Museum for History and Culture for its special exhibit on the struggle for black equality.

Tuesday’s events mark 400 years since 22 men met in Jamestown as the first House of Burgesses. White men in each of Virginia’s 11 main settlements selected the men who would represent them. Today’s General Assembly traces its roots back to that meeting and lays claim to being the oldest continuously operating English-style legislative body in North America.

The commemorative session is due to include members of the Virginia General Assembly, Congress and other state legislatures.

Trump was invited last year by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and Republican General Assembly leaders due to the significance of the occasion. Northam is scheduled to speak in Jamestown early Tuesday morning, with Trump scheduled to speak separately later.

“It is impossible to ignore the emblem of hate and disdain that the president represents,” the black caucus said in a statement calling on all lawmakers to skip Tuesday’s ceremonial session.

The events have taken on an additional political aspect in a General Assembly election year, given the current state and national political climate and Virginia’s struggle to confront its history.

“Those who have chosen to attend and remain silent are complicit in the atrocities that [the president] incites. This week will reveal which legislative leaders are willing to take a stand with the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus,” the statement said.

Virginia — and the nation’s — first elected black governor, Doug Wilder, has raised concerns about the lack of focus on the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans being brought to Virginia shores, saying he was not consulted enough as an honorary chair of some of the commemorative events scheduled over the next several months.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat, has said he does plan to attend Tuesday’s commemorative session in his role as president of the Virginia Senate. Fairfax is the highest ranking elected black official in Virginia today.

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