Call for resignation of Virginia mayor after ‘Aunt Jemima’ post regarding Biden

The longtime mayor of Luray, Virginia — a tiny town just east of tourist destination Luray Caverns — is facing a call for his resignation after a Facebook post that read, “Joe Biden has just announced Aunt Jemima as his VP pick.”

Mayor Barry Presgraves has been in office since 2008, but earlier announced he would not seek reelection in 2020. A lifelong town resident, he had previously served on the town council.

A screenshot, purportedly from Presgraves’ personal Facebook page, was shared with WTOP but was not online Monday.

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, had said he would choose a woman to be his vice president, and his potential picks include California Sen. Kamala Harris, California Rep. Karen Bass and Obama national security adviser Susan Rice.

Leah Pence, a Luray Town Council member who is running for reelection, posted an email she said she sent to Presgraves on Monday, calling for him to step down.

“I am writing to strongly urge you to resign over a racist comment you made on Facebook,” Pence wrote. “The comment you posted has a type of humor that has not been appropriate or funny in my lifetime or yours.”

Pence said though Presgraves’ resignation would not “resolve the systemic subliminal racism that plagues our community, your resignation is imperative,” in moving toward ending racism in Luray.

Pence said Presgraves is “accountable for your words and decisions as the leader of the Town of Luray, and your recent actions have caused me and many citizens to lose faith and confidence in your capacity to effectively and justly serve.”

Presgraves did not immediately respond to WTOP’s requests for comment through email, Facebook and a phone message.

Late Monday afternoon, 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.”

Luray, the county seat of Page County in the Shenandoah Valley, has a population of 4,895, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. According to the census, 92% of residents in Luray are white and 3.69% are Black.

Luray Town Council Member Jerry Dofflemyer will run against Darryl Haley for mayor.

Presgraves is not the only local Virginia elected official to be criticized for racially insensitive Facebook posts. In late June, Loudoun County Treasurer Roger Zurn apologized for mocking the decision by Quaker Oats to retire its Aunt Jemima pancake brand.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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