Mayor of Virginia Town Refuses to Resign, Defends Meme of Aunt Jemima As Biden’s VP: ‘I Took It to Be Humorous’

The mayor of a small town in Virginia apologized for posting a racist meme about former Vice President Joe Biden’s potential running mate.

Barry Presgraves, mayor of Luray, Virginia, posted the meme on his Facebook page last Saturday, according to The Washington Post. It read, “Joe Biden just announced Aunt Jemima as his VP pick.”

Luray is a predominately white town of approximately 5,000 people in northern Virginia. Only 3.69 percent of the population identified as Black, according to Census data.

Biden is expected to announce his VP pick in the coming weeks. Several prominent Black women are rumored to be in the running, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, and California Sen. Kamala Harris.

Presgraves’ post was eventually deleted, but screenshots of the meme made its way around the internet, leading to widespread condemnation. Luray councilwoman Leah Pence and others called for Presgraves’ resignation.

This morning at 8:50am I wrote this email to The Mayor of Luray, Barry Presgraves. The type of post that the Mayor…

Posted by Leah Pence for Political Office on Monday, August 3, 2020

“The comment you posted has a type of humor that not been appropriate or funny in my lifetime or yours,” Pence said in a letter to Presgraves, which was posted on Facebook. “While a resignation alone will not resolve the systemic subliminal racism that plagues our community, your resignation is imperative as we work towards ending racism in our community. You are 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 as Mayor of The Town of Luray.”

“The Mayor of Luray, Barry Presgraves, needs to be replaced. The blatant racism that he posted on his Facebook is disgusting, and unacceptable,” read a tweet from the Valley Region Caucus of the Virginia Young Democrats.

Despite the outrage, Presgraves intends to finish his term. As the Washington Post reported, he does not intend to seek reelection.

“Hell no, I’m not resigning,” Presgraves told Page Valley News on Monday. “The people elected me and I have a few months more to serve.”

He also denied being racist and appeared to have trouble understanding the post was controversial.

“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.”

Aunt Jemima was based on a formerly enslaved woman named Nancy Green, and her image has been used to sell pancake mix, syrup and other items for Quaker Oats. The character and the stereotype it represents is often used as a racist insult against Black women.  In June, the company announced it would retire the Aunt Jemima character and stop using the image on its products. Presgraves told Page Valley News he is one of the brand’s loyal customers.

“I don’t even depict that as racist,” Presgraves said. “I ate Aunt Jemima all my life.”

On Wednesday, Presgraves issued an apologetic statement on his Facebook page.

“I posted a picture on 8-1-20, I am sorry if I hurt anyone’s feelings lesson learned,” he wrote. “It was not my intent to hurt anyone. I took it to be humorous. Sorry!”

On Monday, the town of Luray announced the issue would be discussed during a town council meeting on Aug. 10.

PUBLIC NOTICEAugust 3, 2020The Town of Luray’s Mission Statement included in our Personnel Policies Manual states…

Posted by Town of Luray (Official) on Monday, August 3, 2020

“The Town of Luray rejects racism and is committed to working together with the community through understanding, compassion, and opportunity,” the statement read.

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