A Sunday evening Facebook post by Luray Mayor Barry Presgraves on his personal page has drawn the ire of some Town Council members.
Shortly after 5:30 p.m., Presgraves posted on Facebook that “Joe Biden has just announced Aunt Jemima as his VP pick.” Aunt Jemima, a breakfast brand from Quaker Oats, was retired in June after the company said the Black character’s origins were “based on a racial stereotype,” The Associated Press reported.
According to the AP, Biden, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, is on the verge of choosing his running mate, with the finalists believed to include three Black women — California Sen. Kamala Harris, former national security adviser Susan Rice and California Rep. Karen Bass — and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Presgraves has served as the Luray mayor since 2008 and previously served on Town Council. While Presgraves could not be reached Monday, a handful of council members said the post does not represent the Town Council or Luray.
“The town of Luray is better than that,” said council member Ron Vickers. “This could wreck our reputation.”
Presgraves’ post has since been deleted, but the aftermath is still lingering with council members and town residents.
“It caused a bit of a storm,” Vickers said. “He doesn’t speak for council and he doesn’t speak for me.”
Council member Jerry Schiro said in an emailed statement that “all racial comments are inappropriate. Given the heightened sensitivity to racism in America today, they are particularly concerning and divisive when made by elected officials.”
“We are, and should be, held to higher standards in our thinking and actions,” he said. “I can assure the citizens of Luray this type of thinking is not indicative of the Luray Town Council Members.”
On Facebook, council member Leah Pence wrote on her community page that she personally condemned Presgraves’ post, adding that it does not represent the views of council.
By Monday afternoon, Pence posted on Facebook again to say that at 8:50 a.m. she sent an email to Presgraves urging him to resign over the comment.
In her email, she wrote: “I am writing to strongly urge you to resign over a racist comment you made on Facebook. The comment you posted has a type of humor that not been appropriate or funny in my lifetime or yours. While a resignation alone will not resolve the systemic subliminal racism that plagues our community, your resignation is imperative as we work toward 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.”
Pence could not be reached for further comment on Monday.
Presgraves is not running for re-election, but mayoral candidate and council member Jerry Dofflemyer said Sunday was a “sleepless night” after reading the post.
“I was saddened and disappointed to see it. … It was inappropriate,” he said. “I was shocked to read it.”
Dofflemyer agreed with Vickers’ comment that the town was better than that and Presgraves’ thoughts does not reflect Dofflemyer’s.
Council member Joey Sours was traveling back from a weekend trip with family when he said he became aware of Presgraves’ post. Sours said in an email that the comments, which he found to be hurtful, divisive and potentially damaging to the community, did not reflect his thoughts, feelings or values.
“I spoke with the mayor personally to encourage him to publicly apologize for sharing the meme, regardless of his intent due to the resultant impact, and to make every effort to rectify the situation,” Sours said. “I care deeply for the town of Luray and its citizens and I care for the mayor whom I’ve worked alongside for many years. Although the comments were not my own, I apologize to all who were hurt by them.”
Sours continued to say that while condemning harmful words or actions is justified, it is important to not make the mistake of immediately condemning an individual.
“That only cements divisiveness as it prevents a means for dialogue that can bring healing and closure to the situation,” he said. “This one comment need not define the man nor our community. This is a time for forgiveness and grace — something each of us needs to both give and receive every day.”
Council member Leroy Lancaster could not be reached for comment.
In an initial statement Audre King, pastor and owner of West Luray Recreation Center, said he has received several calls asking for Presgraves’ resignation, but declined to comment further until he could meet with council members and community members to hear their thoughts.