Virginia poised to become 1st Southern state to declare racism a public health crisis

Virginia — whose state capital Richmond was once the capital of the Confederacy — is about to become the first state in the South to declare racism a public health crisis.

The state Senate approved the declaration Tuesday and sent it to Gov. Ralph Northam — who’s expected to sign it.

It had previously passed the House of Delegates on an almost party-line vote, with Democrats voting overwhelmingly in favor.

The American Public Health Association says 145 cities and counties in 27 states have declared racism a public health issue — up from just seven in 2019.

Virginia lawmakers also moved Tuesday to remove a statue of segregationist Harry F. Byrd Sr., who served as Virginia’s governor and a U.S. senator, will be removed from the state capitol grounds under a bill that won bipartisan final approval.

By a vote of 36-3, the Senate advanced the measure that had already cleared the House, sending it to Northam, who supports it.

Byrd, a Democrat, ran the state’s most powerful political machine for decades until his death in 1966 and was considered the architect of the state’s racist “massive resistance” policy to public school integration.

“Racism and its symbols, obvious and subtle, have no place in this new Virginia decade,” Del. Jay Jones, the chief sponsor of the bill, said in a statement after the vote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Chris Cruise

Christopher Cruise is a writer, reporter and anchor at WTOP. He has worked at The Voice of America, where he anchored newscasts for the Learning English branch. He is a backup host for Westwood’s morning radio news programs, “America in the Morning” and “First Light,” and contributes to them weekly.

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