The mayor of Luray, Virginia, after calls for him to step down for a now-deleted Facebook post that read, “Joe Biden has just announced Aunt Jemima as his VP pick,” told a hometown news organization, “Hell, no. I’m not resigning.”
The post came after Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, had said he would choose a woman to be his vice president. His potential picks include California Sen. Kamala Harris, California Rep. Karen Bass and Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, among others.
Barry Presgraves, the mayor of the small Page County town, had previously announced he would not seek reelection in 2020.
“I saw it last week, and I thought it was funny,” Presgraves told Page Valley News. “The people elected me, and I have a few months more to serve.”
Presgraves didn’t specify what inspired his post, but a satire website had posted a story with a similar headline several days earlier.
“I thought it was humorous. I had no idea people would react the way they did. I think people have gone overboard with this,” Presgraves told Page Valley News. “It’s an election year.”
He said he deleted his Facebook post within a half-hour.
On Monday, several elected town council members criticized Presgraves’ comments. Council member Leah Pence called for Presgraves’ resignation.
“The comment you posted has a type of humor that has not been appropriate or funny in my lifetime or yours,” Pence wrote in a letter sent to the mayor.
Presgraves said the post was a “mistake” and that he was sorry he had done it.
“If I had a chance to do it over, I wouldn’t do it,” he said.
Nevertheless, Presgraves defended the content of his post.
“I don’t even depict that as racist,” Presgraves reportedly said. “I ate Aunt Jemima all my life.”
“This was about a prominent woman who made pancake batter, and the company was forced to take it off, which was wrong,” Presgraves said. “This was no more racist than the names I’ve been called. I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”
Presgraves has not responded to WTOP requests for comment Monday and Tuesday, through email, Facebook and several phone messages.
Late Monday, the Town of Luray posted a statement on its Facebook page that read, in part: “The Town of Luray rejects racism and is committed to working together with the community through understanding, compassion, and opportunity. The Town Council will discuss the events leading to this statement at their August 10th meeting.”
Comments on social media range from calling for Presgraves to step down to disappointment that the mayor’s comments are prompting negative publicity for the town of 4,895, just east of popular Luray Caverns in the Shenandoah Valley.
Page Valley News said Presgraves’ post followed two peaceful prayer vigils in Luray in early June reacting to the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody.
“I had no idea people would react the way they did,” Presgraves said. “You can apologize all you want, but no one will believe it.”