Virginia’s black state politicians protested Donald Trump‘s “racist and xenophobic” rhetoric by boycotting a ceremony on Tuesday commemorating the beginnings of American democracy because of the president.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said on Monday its members would not attend the event in historic Jamestown marking the 400th anniversary of the first representative assembly in the Western Hemisphere.
The boycott comes after Trump’s weekend comments referring to US Representatives Elijah Cummings’s majority-black Baltimore-area district as a “disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess”.
The caucus’s statement did not specifically mention Cummings but said Trump’s “repeated attacks on Black legislators and comments about Black communities makes him ill-suited to honour and commemorate such a monumental period in history”.
Earlier this month, the president repeatedly made racist remarks against four minority congresswomen of colour.
In a series of tweets, Trump told US Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, to “go back” to where they came from. All four are US citizens and all but Omar were born in in the US.
Virginia Legislative Black Caucus chair Delegate Lamont Bagby said the group unanimously reached the boycott decision more than a week ago.
But he said the president has “continued his attacks” since then and that his remarks about Cummings’s district were more of the same.
[Press Release] Virginia Legislative Black Caucus Boycotts President’s Visit pic.twitter.com/LUGVK8cTes
— Lamont Bagby (@delegatebagby) July 29, 2019
The convening of a legislative assembly in 1619 formed the basis of today’s representative system of government in the United States.
The Virginia General Assembly is considered the oldest continuously operating legislative body in North America.
“The commemoration of the birth of this nation and its democracy will be tarnished unduly with the participation of the President, who continues to make degrading comments towards minority leaders, promulgate policies that harm marginalised communities, and use racist and xenophobic rhetoric,” the caucus said in a statement.
The legislators held an alternative event in which they placed a wreath honouring deceased black politicians.
The politicians also plan to hold a ceremony at the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail site in Richmond, where slaves were imprisoned and sold.
Trump joined national and state leaders and dignitaries at Tuesday’s event, a commemorative session of the Virginia General Assembly at which Trump is to deliver remarks.
Trump said on Tuesday that the legislators boycotting his appearance were going “against their own people”, claiming without evidence that African Americans “love the job” he’s doing.
But African Americans continue to be overwhelmingly negative in their assessments of the president’s performance. According to Gallup polling, approval among African Americans has hovered around one in 10 throughout Trump’s presidency, with eight percent approving in June.
Caucus members said they will also boycott the rest of a weeklong series of events marking the 400th anniversary and have instead planned alternative commemorations Tuesday in Richmond, Virginia’s capital.
When the Richmond Times-Dispatch first reported earlier in the month that Trump would take part in the event, top Democratic politicians said they would not attend.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment said at the time that their decision was “disappointing and embarrassing”.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney also resigned from a planning committee in protest.
Tuesday’s events are just one part of a yearlong commemoration called American Evolution meant to honour key milestones in the state’s colonial history.