Va. lawmaker: celebrate slavery’s demise

Published 6:03 pm Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Virginia legislator who enraged black leaders by saying black Virginians “should just get over” slavery on Monday proposed celebrating slavery’s demise.

Del. Frank D. Hargrove said a Mississippi minister who had read Hargrove’s comments called and recommended a resolution supporting a “Juneteenth” observance for Virginia.

Juneteenth is the June 19th observance of the day in 1865 when Union officers read the proclamation declaring slavery’s end in Galveston, Texas, considered the last outpost of the defeated Confederacy to hear the news.

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Hargrove, a Hanover Republican who turns 80 Friday, said in a Jan. 16 newspaper interview he opposed a legislative resolution offering an official apology for slavery because no one living today was involved in it. He rhetorically asked whether Jews should also be made to apologize for the crucifixion of Christ and said of slavery, “our black citizens should get over it.”

Two days later, Virginia’s black leaders demanded an official censure of Hargrove, and an apology from the Republican Party and threatened protests if they don’t occur.

Monday, Hargrove said in remarks on the House floor the Rev. Ronald Myers, an African-American minister in Belzoni, Miss., had suggested a Juneteenth resolution as an alternative to a slavery apology.

“I think it’s very worthy because it’s positive that we here in Virginia — and it has nothing to do with the apology — that we celebrate the end of slavery. Slavery’s over with, it was a horrible institution, there’s nobody living today that approved of it, that thought it was worthwhile,” Hargrove said.

Myers is chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation and said in a telephone interview several state legislatures have adopted Juneteenth resolutions.

The Rev. J. Rayfield Vines Jr., one of the Virginia black leaders who denounced Hargrove’s remarks last week, said he has no problem with a Juneteenth resolution as long as there’s also a slavery apology.

“The problem I have with that is that there are people who have a problem understanding that an apology for slavery is in order,” Vines said, taking note of this year’s quadricentennial celebration of the first permanent English settlement in North America at Jamestown, Va.

“Dominant society wants us to remember 400 years of history in Virginia, but not remember slavery,” Vines said.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Monday night that genealogical research conducted by the newspaper and the Library of Virginia revealed that Hargrove’s great-grandfather, Nathan D. Hargrove, had owned a slave. Hargrove has previously said he didn’t know whether any of his ancestors had owned slaves. When confronted with the discovery Monday, Hargrove said he wasn’t surprised.

“I didn’t know that. I never heard that. That’s probably true,” he said of his great-grandfather.