By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Aug. 3 — He doesn’t seem to understand what he did wrong and why there’s been “such a fuss about it.”
“I saw it last week, and I thought it was funny,” Luray Mayor Barry Presgraves said on Monday afternoon. “ I thought it was humorous. I had no idea people would react the way they did. I think people have gone overboard on this…It’s an election year.”
On Sunday evening around 6 p.m., the three-term mayor posted the following on his personal Facebook page: “Joe Biden has just announced Aunt Jemima as his VP pick.”
The meme circulating on social media references two things:
- The mid-June decision by Quaker Foods North America to drop its iconic “Aunt Jemima” brand. The company cited the origins of the character, which was based on the racial stereotype of a black “mammy” portrayed in films and literature for decades.
- And the fact that several of the potential vice presidential candidates currently being vetted by the Biden campaign are African American women.
The headline “Biden Selects Aunt Jemima As Running Mate” was also used for a racially satirical story posted on babylonbee.com
Among the women of color being considered as running mates by the former VP are:
- California representative to the House, Karen Bass, the 66-year-old chair of the Congressional Black Caucus;
- California Senator Kamala Harris;
- Former national security advisor, Susan Rice;
- Florida representative Val Demmings;
- Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Biden is expected to select a running mate and vice presidential candidate next week among those listed above, as well as several caucasian contenders, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusettes and the female governors of Michigan and New Mexico. Early on, Biden promised that his VP selection would be a woman, and it has been made public in recent weeks that several of those potential candidates on the “short list” are black women.
Presgraves’ Facebook post about Biden’s potential running mate prompted quick and negative reactions by those who saw it before it was taken down by Presgraves on Sunday evening.
“Barry Presgraves, Goodbye… It is very disappointing that the Mayor of Luray would go to this LEVEL! I never comment on RACIAL comments… but this one is pretty low,” read a reaction from Audrey Tutt Smith, a longtime female African American resident of Luray who worked in school administration for many years.
A reposting of the comment from the mayor’s page by another user on Facebook — calling out the mayor for posting the racially-charged meme — had drawn 47 comments and 128 shares as of the writing of this article Monday afternoon.
“I am disturbed, shocked, and saddened by this. There is no excuse for this behavior. He needs to resign. Now.”
“Are you freaking serious? Luray is better than this. Any town official who doesn’t speak up and take action is complicit. I am so sad about this.”
“This is highly disrespectful. He as the mayor doesn’t represent all of the citizens of Luray.”
“I find this post despicable… and it angers me that people liked and even thought it was funny. Very sad.”
“I am appalled and deeply disappointed. Council Members, please do not be complicit and address this immediately.”
None of the comments were favorable. No one tried to defend the small town mayor. Now, some of his fellow council members are calling for his resignation.
“Barry — 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 [has] not been appropriate or funny in my lifetime or yours,” council member Leah Pence stated in a letter she sent to Presgraves and posted on her Facebook page to promote her candidacy for re-election to the Luray Council.
“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,” the letter continues. “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.”
Other council members have weighed in on the issue as well.
“I have talked to several council members, and we are not pleased,” Luray councilman Ron Vickers said in a heated tone on Sunday evening. “Barry Presgraves does not speak for the council, and he does not speak for Ron Vickers.”
“All racial comments are inappropriate given the heightened sensitivity to racism in our country today,” Luray councilman Jerry Schiro told The Washington Post on Monday. “We are and should be held to a higher standard. I can assure the citizens of Luray that kind of thinking is not indicative of the council.”
The mayor’s social media post on Sunday has now become the focus of online articles published by The Washington Post and WTOP (No.1 news-based radio station in Washington, D.C.).
Mayor Presgraves’ actions come after a similar event in Loudoun County that closely followed Quaker’s decision regarding the Aunt Jemima character just over six weeks ago.
Loudoun County treasurer Roger Zurn posted “Wondering if Aunt Jemima will change to Uncle Tom’s?” on his social media page in mid-June. The reactions to the post were swift and harsh, and the Republican who has served as the county’s treasurer since 1996 subsequently apologized for his actions.
“It was an error in judgment,” he stated, according to a report in the Loudoun Times-Mirror.
By contrast, the mayor of Luray is having trouble understanding what he did wrong.
“This was about a prominent woman who made pancake batter and the company was forced to take it off, which was wrong,” Presgraves said on Monday afternoon. “This was no more racist than the names I’ve been called. I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”
Nancy Green was born a slave on March 4, 1834. She was a storyteller, cook and activist, but she would become the advertising world’s first living trademark — and the first of many African Americans to promote a corporate brand — when the R.T. Milling Company of Missouri started putting her image on their products in 1893.
At the time, 59-year-old Green was working as a cook and nanny in Kentucky for the family of Charles Morehead Walker, who recommended her for the part of “Aunt Jemima.” When they cast Green, the milling company was looking for a “Mammy”-type character portrayed in black-face minstrel shows in the 19th century — no different than the black stereotypes of Sambo and Jim Crow. At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Green was portrayed as a plantation slave in a display that sat her next to a 24-foot high flour barrel as she made pancakes, sang songs and told romanticized stories about the Old South, according to many accounts.
“I don’t even depict that as racist,” Mayor Presgraves said. “I ate Aunt Jemima all my life.”
The mayor’s recent post on social media follows two peaceful prayer vigils in Luray in early June reacting to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in late May. Those prayer vigils followed vandalism at the town’s two Confederate monuments on June 1. Although the spray paint is no longer there, a growing effort to relocate the two statues that have stood for more than a century still lingers.
The Valley Regional Caucus of the Young Democrats have already called for Presgraves’ resignation on Twitter. Several council members have also stated that they want Presgraves, who was first elected mayor in 2008, to resign. Presgraves is only the second mayor the town has had since the 1980s, as he followed longtime mayor Ralph Dean. After comfortable wins in his first two elections, Presgraves only won by 59 votes in 2016.
Now, council members are talking about everything from a formal censure (public reprimand or statement by the council) to demanding his resignation.
“Hell no, I’m not resigning,” Presgraves said on Monday. “The people elected me and I have a few months more to serve.”
And some council members are reluctant to demand an end to the mayor’s term.
“That’s a decision the mayor needs to make,” Schiro said on Monday. “I’m not ready to make that kind of demand of him.”
The mayor’s third, four-year term expires on Dec. 31, and he has publicly stated for some time that he will not seek a fourth term. He previously served on the Luray Council before becoming mayor and spent 31 years as the manager of ARAMARK, the former concessionaire for Shenandoah National Park.
With less than 200 African Americans living in a community of nearly 5,000 residents, racial comments have been made for years without much fanfare in many circles around the town. However, a social media post by the mayor has now gained regional and national attention.
“I consider it sad that everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon,” Mayor Presgraves said of the current protests over racial equality, petitions to remove Confederate statues… and the criticism of the Facebook meme he found to be “funny.”
“I’m sorry I done it… there was no [bad] intent behind it,” Presgraves told PVN.
The mayor took down his comment within “a half hour or less” from when he posted it.
” I don’t post that often,” Presgraves said. “I had to call someone to get them to tell me how to take it down.”
He labels his actions as a “mistake,” while simultaneously holding on to the belief that he has done nothing wrong.
“I thought it was funny… I thought it was humorous. I had no idea people would react the way they did,” Presgraves said less than 24 hours after making the post. “If I had a chance to do it over, I wouldn’t do it.
“You can apologize all you want, but no one will believe it.”
The Town of Luray posted the following on its website and Facebook page on Monday, Aug. 3:
The Town of Luray’s Mission Statement included in our Personnel Policies Manual states “It is the mission of every Town employee to deliver quality service to our residents, customers, and visitors in an efficient, effective, and equitable manner in order to promote pride in our community.”
We believe that our employees and every person in our community deserves fair and just treatment. The many voices of our community welcome all to Luray.
The Town of Luray rejects racism and is committed to working together with the community through understanding, compassion, and opportunity.
The Town Council will discuss the events leading to this statement at their August 10th meeting.
The Town of Luray seeks to continue our ability to serve our community, and welcomes any constructive suggestions to accomplish this goal. If you have any suggestions, please contact the Town Manager at email@example.com.
Luray Council censures mayor for ‘Aunt Jemima’ comment
March against Presgraves also serves as political rally for Pence
Still standing guard: Confederate sentries cleaned and ready for maintenance
Future of Confederate statues still in question; voters may decide
‘One peace’: Luray protesters march for unity
Prayer meeting reflects on racial tension and a national tragedy
Teacher, teacher, Barry called me a name.
What name did he call you, dear?
Well I’m not sure, but it was ugly.
What was ugly about it?
I don’t know, but it hurt my feelings.
All Biden cared about was a black running mate. THAT is racist, and tokenism.
I guarantee she’s got a hell of a lot more accomplishments and a hell of a lot more education than you do cracker!
Not a mention of the party he belongs to. MUST be democrat. Young Democrats calling for resignation. If he were a Republican it would be all over the story. Fair journalism?
Democratic or republican doesn’t matter. That man calling kamala Harris , “aunt Jemima” is racist!! And the fact that he is a politician he should….SHOULD have a little bit more sense than that. But these are the times we live in.
There is no place for that. He should resign.
Democrat or Republican BS. You vote Democrat, you always have and until you learn you always will. If this were a Democrat making fun of or slandering the a Republican or the current President which they do every day you would be and are OK with it and you know it. How many reposts, shares or likes do you have when someone refers to the presidents sink color being orange??? No different so get over yourself.
I first was in Luray in 1951. It was the first time I, as an Ohio ten year old, had seen separate plumbing for two races. It seems that your mayor hasn’t learned much since.
Go ahead and keep your racist mayor. You won’t get a dime of my money and I travel there with some frequency. And though I wanted my wife to see the caverns, it can wait until you at least attempt to join the modern, civilized world.
Silly Patrick, calling someone “orange” doesn’t quite have the impact of calling someone black, now does it.
Your wife looks like Porky Pig!
No Anonymous, that is attempting to recognize the racism and inequality your mayor exemplifies.
What I find interesting is… this Mayor thought everyone would see the humor in his comment… for some reason he believed his inner and outer circle of friends and associates had the same type of humor. I wonder how he came to believe this… just sayin… food for thought… Good luck with your tourism revenue cause it’s all about the money…
You are the reason for there only being 4%… Young African Americans got out of that one horse town and let you have the joint… There’s more to life than LURAY! Pleaseee! LOL
agree 100%. if it were reversed it would be all over the main stream, drive by media. I hear Crickets on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC.
The racist mayor should stay and finish out his term. He isn’t worth getting upset about it. He is who he is and will not change at 77 yrs if she. A person of colour was chosen as VP because of the fact that white people have had a major voice in politics and there needs to be some balance. Anyone who calls it “racist” or tokenism doesn’t have the intellect to process why this was needed and aren’t worth the time to argue with. Let the racism fester in the racists. They all deserve each other. Only human beings with character and good morals know what is Right and How to conduct themselves.
Perhaps Stephen Miller has a spot open on President Trump’s Immigration staff for Mayor Presgraves? It would seem the two of them are simpatico.
Remember… When it’s all said and done Your God knows ALL about you and if you don’t have or believe in a higher power… There is Karma… which TRULY exist whether you believe it or not. You are not an island… Karma may affect those close to you by inflicting the pain you cause others on those you care most about. Trump know not what he do… same goes for those like him and this Mayor.
Put mud on that baby Michelin man….
I heard about this on NBC. I live in California so trust me this story got around.
It was actually an insult to Aunt Jemima to have been compared to that despicable power hungry idiot. Aunt Jemima was an incredible hard working American success story, people had great things to say about the sweet respectful God loving strong woman. So honestly Aunt Jemima is truly the only person who should have any say so over the Mayor’s comment.
#2 there was absolutely ZERO racism in a comment comparing a black woman to a black woman so the babies that are crying for his resignation have NO right to HARASS this man. Your feelings cannot be hurt over a comment that was not directed at you nor referring to anything racist! Get a real education you all asking for his resignations are in need of conmmon sense!
Don’t resign. This is bullshoot. Go eat pancakes peeps of Luray!
So, the mayor with no class thought it was a funny comment. But now, after threat of losing his job through forced resignation, his well prepared apology not drafted by him tries to reverse his intent. 77 year old people do not suddenly “get religion” – he is what he is, and one reason why this country is so divided. I used to like going to Luray and spending time and my money there. But as long as he’s mayor, I and my friends will not return. I expect leaders to set an example for others, and show evidence of critical thinking skills….
He is a republican.
Patrick, it is not the same. His natural color isn’t orange. He tans and wears makeup. Completely different.
It’s smart ass white red necks like this idiot that have gotten country into trouble.
The mayor must resign. Period.
Just as I thiught! He looks just like the guy from the movie ” Deliverance” who had the famous line squeal like a pig! I suspect your mayor has the same intellect and upbringing also. It’s no wonder he posted that meme disrespecting a female who is non-Caucausan! Woman hating closeted bigot.
Isn’t it just typical in this age of Trump that people like the mayor of this town says such a disgusting thing, thinking that he is funny and then has the audacity to say hell no he won’t quit? Are you kidding me? Old-time racist reads from a piece of paper when they apologize– are such a disgrace. Put the damn paper down and get on the phone and call Kamala Harris and apologize to her from your disgusting heart. Quit your job and then apologize to everybody you can possibly think of because even if you live another ten years it won’t be enough time to apologize to all of the people that need apologies. You are a disgrace to the black and brown community. Thank God your generation is dying off because there’s no need for your kind anymore. You’re an antiquated group of people.
Mitchell Paul Smith well said and hilarious! I especially liked the part “Thank God your generation is dying off because there’s no need for your kind anymore. You’re an antiquated group of people.” ?
He didn’t call her Aunt Jemima. Biden was picking a vp based on race and sex. THAT is racist and sexist.
sounds familiar huh. Just mad your category was finally left out How does it feel? Now multiply that tmes 45. Your white privilege is showing
Yes he did… you silly wabbit!
Nope, he had 3 other women that wasn’t African American….so no…he promised he would pick a woman…that was it…..but when you are determined to find an excuse to justify unacceptable behavior you usually can find it…..
nope….read the story above…their republican treasurer did something similar…he apologized and he’s still there….so don’t know what party the mayor belongs to but it doesn’t matter…wrong is still wrong….he feels he made a mistake and in the same breath feels he’s done nothing wrong…given the chance he wouldn’t do it again…..when people try to explain why something hurts them and you just ignore it because you don’t understand……that says more about you than anything else…so does this comment….
well said and so right….
#1 do the research Aunt Jemima came from the same concept as simbo and Jim crow…she was a slave woman who the put in a box at one of their fairs and she cooked pancakes while singing songs and telling stories making it seem like the slaves were happy and content…she was a slave…she wasn’t paid money…they used her to make money…Quaker Oats realizes that..so if the company who started it admits where it came from then how come you fail to understand this….someone in hear actually posted a link…#2 Words have power…the lie that words can never hurt is just that…a lie…..it’s funny when you even apply something is racist…then people come out of the woodwork about what an ugly word that is and it offends….by your reasoning it shouldn’t right.. afterall mo one actually called a particular name right……these comments are part of the problem…..have a nice day..
we had about 43 white presidents…one got elected twice I believe…one black president….he promised to pick a woman….he didn’t say what her race would be..again do some research on why he picked her…she also worked with and was friends with Bo his son that passed away……. she was already vetted since she was previously in the presidential race….
that comment was racist and you know it…..do the research about the real Aunt Jemima…read the above story…but from your comments it probably wouldn’t make a difference….your comment is part if the problem…..
you sound like an idiot. Hopefully you have no children learning from or looking to you to survive in this world. Hopefully they will stay right in Luray if so.