Delegate's comments on slavery criticized
A Hanover County delegate’s comments that Virginia’s black residents should “get over” slavery and discussing whether Jews might “apologize for killing Christ” drew angry and emotional rebukes Tuesday on the floor of the House of Delegates.
Del. Frank D. Hargrove, R-Glen Allen, responded to a tearful Jewish delegate from Alexandria whose ancestors came to America from Nazi-occupied Poland by telling him, “I think your skin was a little too thin.”
Stunned delegates gasped as Hargrove responded with two comments about “thin skin” to his seatmate, Del. David L. Englin, D-Alexandria, who had spoken moments earlier about his family having been “driven from their homes by people who believed that as Jews, we killed Christ.”
Englin, who joined two black delegates in rebukes of Hargrove’s comments in The Daily Progress opposing a resolution to have Virginia apologize for slavery, said, “I understand that [he] means no harm … but I just want my friends and my colleagues of this body to think twice before they say such things.”
“It’s an inflammatory statement that causes a lot of pain to a lot of people,” Englin said. He then held up a picture of his 7-year-old son, Caleb, and said that Hargrove “means no harm [but false statements such as that] mean that my 7-year-old son is that much more likely to be verbally attacked, to be physically attacked.”
Del. Dwight C. Jones, D-Richmond and chairman of the Black Legislative Caucus, called Hargrove’s comment that black Virginians should get over slavery “an absolute offense.”
“When somebody tells me that I should get over slavery, I can only express my emotions by saying I am appalled, absolutely appalled, that someone would take the worst institution that has ever faced Americans and tell the [descendants] of those individuals that they should just get over it,” Jones told fellow delegates.
Hargrove, a 79-year-old veteran of the House since 1982, had said in the interview published Tuesday that he opposed a resolution apologizing on behalf of the state to the descendants of slaves because “the present commonwealth has nothing to do with slavery.”
Hargrove said in the interview that slavery ended with the Civil War and added, “I personally think that our black citizens should get over it.” He also asked how far back apologies should go and wondered, “Are we going to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ?”
Del. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico County and the chief patron of the House resolution, took the floor and explained the symbolic statement is on behalf of the state and is meant to be “part of the healing process.”
He called any statement about Jews killing Christ “theologically incorrect.”
As for slavery, McEachin said, “we know that when there is a wrong committed, there needs to be an apology and for 400 years this commonwealth has not apologized. I, for one, believe it is high time for that apology.”
Republicans later declined to defend Hargrove’s comments but insisted he meant no harm.
“I know he didn’t mean offense, but I can see how people would be offended,” said House GOP Leader H. Morgan Griffith of Salem. “The general gist of Frank’s comments is he certainly didn’t mean any offense to his seatmate, whom he likes.”
Griffith called the issue of an apology for slavery “a difficult issue. … I can’t say it’s a clear-cut, easily decided issue.”
McEachin said Tuesday night that the earliest the resolution might come up in the House Rules Committee likely would be Jan. 24.
Sen. Henry L. Marsh, D-Richmond, is sponsoring the Senate version of the apology resolution. He declined to criticize Hargrove and said the measure is meant to help bring about racial reconciliation as the state prepares to mark the 400th anniversary in May of the first permanent English settlement in America at Jamestown.
Keith Drake, chairman of the Albemarle County Republican Committee, issued a statement Tuesday saying a resolution expressing appreciation “to recognize the significant contributions of slaves” would be more appropriate and positive.
Because no slaves or slaveholders are alive, “it is unclear who is apologizing to whom,” Drake said. He said the Marsh and McEachin resolution “serves no useful purpose. It merely opens old wounds.”
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