WASHINGTON — African-American state lawmakers from Virginia will boycott President Trump’s scheduled speech in Jamestown on Tuesday at a ceremony to commemorate the 400th anniversary of representative democracy in the Western Hemisphere, citing the president’s inflammatory comments about critics of color.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which represents members of the House of Delegates and State Senate, said in a statement that its members cannot “in good conscience sit silently” as a president who has promoted racial divisions is given such a prominent platform. Mr. Trump is due to fly to Virginia and speak at the Jamestown Settlement Museum at 11:15 a.m.
“It is impossible to ignore the emblem of hate and disdain that the president represents,” the caucus said in its statement. The statement added that Mr. Trump’s “repeated attacks on black legislators and comments about black communities” make him “ill-suited to honor and commemorate such a monumental period in history, especially if this nation is to move forward with the ideals of ‘democracy, inclusion, and opportunity.’”
The lawmakers’ protest came as Mr. Trump has employed racist tropes in a caustic war of words with critics. He told four Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back” to their home countries, even though three were born in the United States and the fourth was naturalized as a teenager. In recent days, he has repeatedly assailed Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, and his “rat and rodent infested” majority-black district and targeted other foes like the Rev. Al Sharpton, who he said “Hates Whites & Cops.”
The ceremony on Tuesday is meant to mark the first meeting of elected legislators in the new world. On July 30, 1619, a group of 22 representatives of plantations or settlements gathered in a church in Jamestown for the first time in what would be known as the House of Burgesses, the precursor to state legislatures and Congress in the centuries to come.
The Tuesday event already was fraught for African-American lawmakers because in those days only white male property holders were eligible to vote. Moreover, this year also represents the 400th anniversary of the first slaves brought to the colonies that would later become the United States.
The caucus is holding alternative events in Richmond and will focus “on those individuals who fought for a more just, equitable, and inclusive democracy,” said Senator Jennifer McClellan, the group’s vice chair.
But Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax, Virginia’s only African-American statewide elected official, will attend Tuesday’s ceremony, saying the twin anniversaries “far supersede the petty and racist actions of the current occupant of the White House.”
In an essay posted on Medium, he said, “The bigoted words of the current president will thankfully soon be swept into the dustbin of history. Our democracy, born in Virginia, will live on.”
Virginia has been roiled by its own controversies this year. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, has rebuffed widespread calls to resign after the discovery of a 1984 medical school yearbook that included a picture of a man in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes on his personal page. Mr. Northam at first admitted being in the photograph, then denied that he was either man.