Del. Ken Plum: Lessons From a Racist Past

This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The Virginia General Assembly was adjourning for the year as the film “Green Book” was receiving “Best Picture” recognition at the 91st Oscars. While the story line of the movie may have been fictional, the Green Book was reality in the Jim Crow South.

Segregated facilities of hotels, restaurants, public bathrooms and transportation in Virginia and throughout the South necessitated Black travelers having a guide like the Green Book, a small book with a green cover, to let them know where they could stop to use the bathroom, eat a meal or spend the night. It was not unlike a AAA travel guide except that its listings were just for Black travelers. The movie — without exaggeration — lets recent generations know just how segregated the South was.

As part of the Black History Month celebration in the House of Delegates, a different delegate speaks each day about a famous Black person, an interesting Black person from the past who may not have made the history books or the experience of growing up Black.

One day this session. Del. Jeion Ward of Hampton spoke of her experiences growing up Black in segregated Virginia and her family’s use of the Green Book in their vacation travels. There were special challenges to be met when public bathrooms or restaurants were further than needed.

Other symbols of the challenges of growing up Black in a racist society like Virginia and the South were shockingly brought to our attention this legislative session. The cruel part that blackface played in white entertainment may have been unknown to many younger persons or forgotten by others but must be acknowledged and dealt with in repentance by those who took part including the governor and the attorney general.

To include white robes and hoods in entertainment is to overlook that these are symbols of hate, violence, cross burning, lynchings and white supremacy. Public officials must disavow these symbols unequivocally and provide leadership in healing the communities that have been wounded by signs of white supremacy.

Outside the capitol near the governor’s mansion is the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial. It features the walk out of Prince Edward schools led by 16-year old Barbara Johns, a factor in the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that led to the desegregation of public schools. Public schools were not simply segregated, but they were totally unequal.

This legislative session we were reminded by the work of the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis of the differences that continue to exist among white and minority facilities, programs and services. The approved budget made some improvements in reducing the inequities among facilities and services that have disadvantaged Black people. There is a new awareness of the work that needs to be done to overcome our racist past.

Del. Jay Jones of Norfolk spoke out forcefully on the floor of the House of Delegates reminding us of our history and the need to take action in the future. The speech of this young Black delegate is worth a listen for it is a powerful statement of the need to overcome our racist past.

File photo

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Del. Ken Plum: An Historic Session

This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

As you read this column the Virginia General Assembly will be nearing its adjournment sine die for the 400th year of its existence, having first met in the church on Jamestowne Island in 1619.

During this commemorative year, there will be many opportunities to learn more about Virginia and to reflect on how its history influences it to today even in the current legislative session and in what on another occasion was referred to as its “recent unpleasantries.”

That first session of what became known a century and a half later as the General Assembly was composed of a representative of the 22 plantations that had sprung up along the major rivers of the state as there were no local government, political boundaries or transportation networks in existence. The representatives were all white males who were landowners.

African Americans had to wait for the outcome of the Civil War and women had to wait for the twentieth century before they became part of the electorate. While the right to vote has begrudgingly expanded, over time there continues to be a resistance to making it easier to vote.

In the current session, there were proposals to allow people to vote early or vote absentee without an excuse and to make election day a holiday for the convenience of voters, but it does not appear that any will become law. Establishing a fair way to draw legislative boundaries has been hotly debated, but the decision to establish an independent redistricting commission will await the closing hours of the session.

Slaves were brought to the colony of Virginia in 1619 to work the tobacco fields that were the mainstay of the colony’s economy. They had none of the rights that Englishmen claimed and beginning in the 1640s were subjected to “slave codes” that defined them as property to be bought and sold with no access to learning to read and write or to move about freely.

After the Civil War, these restrictive laws became the Jim Crow laws that continued to limit the rights of black people who were kept in line by the Ku Klux Klan and by public lynchings. White supremacy reigned with black-face entertainment intended to degrade black people through crude humor.

Happenings during this legislative session showed how little we have progressed on issues of human rights and respect, but there is hope. The reminder to the governor of his racist past will make him an even more enlightened person who if he continues can provide important leadership to dismantling racism in the state.

The incredible people of color who were elected to the House of Delegates in the last election bring strong voices to the need for greater equity and justice in the Commonwealth. Some limited reforms that will help establish equity and remove racism in the criminal justice system are on their way to passage.

Women first came to the Virginia colony in 1619. While rights of women have expanded slowly over the centuries, having Virginia ratify the Equal Rights Amendment is still in doubt. May the lessons of this historic legislative session move us forward in future years.

To check on the fate of specific bills, go to lis.virginia.gov.

File photo

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Reston-Area Lawmakers Join Calls for Northam to Resign After Racist Photo Surfaces

Reston-area lawmakers are calling for Gov. Ralph Northam’s resignation after a racist yearbook photo recently surfaced.

The photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook shows two people standing next to each other — one in blackface and the other person in a KKK costume.

Northam apologized on Friday (Feb. 1) for appearing in the “clearly racist and offensive” photo and the hurt it caused 35 years later, indicating that he plans to stay in office.

Then on Saturday, Northam said that he doesn’t think he is in the photo and suggested that it may have been placed on his yearbook page by mistake. He admitted to a separate incident where he darkened his skin for a costume, according to news reports.

Still, many politicians from both sides of the aisle say a resignation can help heal the pain caused by the photo and bring in a new leader who Virginians can trust — a sentiment backed by Reston and Herndon lawmakers (who are all Democrats).

State Sens. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) and Jennifer Boysko (D-33rd District) called on Northam to resign. Howell wrote the following to constituents:

The Ralph Northam I know is not a racist.  The Ralph Northam I know is a decent and kind man.  For the ten years I have known him, he has courageously tried to promote racial harmony in our Southern state.

However, if he is in the disgraceful, abhorrent photo, he must resign. This is a very sad time for our Commonwealth.

This horrible episode has ripped the scab off the festering wound of discrimination still in Virginia.  We must all examine our consciences to see what more we can do to bring healing and reconciliation to all Virginians.

Del. Ken Plum (D-36th District) said in a tweet that he agrees with the statements of the House Democratic Caucus, the Legislative Black Caucus and the Senate Democratic Caucus calling for Northam’s resignation.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th District), who represents Reston and Herndon, released a statement with Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) on Saturday (Feb. 2) saying that “nothing we have heard since changes our view that his resignation is the only way forward for the Commonwealth.”

Connolly and Breyer said that the governor must step aside and “allow the process of healing to begin” under Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax.

“Virginia has a painful past where racism was too often not called out for its evil. The only way to overcome that history is to speak and act with absolute moral clarity,” the statement said.

Both of Virginia’s Democratic U.S. senators tweeted that they believe Northam should step down.

Despite the widespread condemnation, it remains unclear at this time whether Northam will resign or not. If he does, Fairfax would become the second African American governor in Virginia’s history.

Photo via @GovernorVA

 

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Video Purports to Show Anti-Muslim Exchange at Reston Store

A video purporting to show a woman making anti-Muslim comments while in line at the Reston Trader Joe’s store has received local, national and global attention since it was first posted early Sunday.

Comedian Jeremy McLellan posted the clip on social media after, he says, a friend of his — a Muslim woman who took the video and bore the brunt of the woman’s rant — sent it to him.

“I wish they didn’t let you in the country,” the woman said to the video-taker, who replies that she was born in the U.S.

Here’s how it started, according to McLellan:

Twenty-four hours after the video was posted, despite extensive news coverage, the woman had still not been publicly identified and certain details of the story have not yet been independently verified. A manager at the Reston Trader Joe’s, for instance, told WJLA (ABC 7) that he could not confirm the video was shot in the store.

On social media, the video has prompted an outcry of near-universal condemnation of the woman’s remarks. The clip has amassed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of views

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