By Marie Albiges
When Virginia's current lawmakers assemble Tuesday in Jamestown to celebrate their predecessors' first meeting 400 years ago, there will be one major similarity:
No black legislators will be present.
The first time around, in 1619, that wasn't by choice. Only white men were representing the interests of their settlements, and the first enslaved Africans are thought to have been brought to Virginia's shores a month or so later.
Four hundred years later, Virginia's 20 black state legislators are choosing to boycott all of the events American Evolution has put together to commemorate the anniversary of that first meeting.
The caucus said in a press release Monday that President Donald Trump's attendance is "antithetical to the principles for which the caucus stands and the democracy that many counterintuitively are clinging to as an excuse to attend this week."
American Evolution confirmed Trump's attendance over the weekend. He's scheduled to speak sometime between 10 a.m. and noon Tuesday at a private General Assembly session in Jamestown. The event will be live streamed at VirginiaGeneralAssembly.gov.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, only the second African American elected to statewide office in Virginia, said in a Medium post that he'd attend regardless of whether Trump is there.
"The celebration of the birth of democracy in America and the honor of standing in the footsteps of my enslaved ancestors as a statewide elected official far supersede the petty and racist actions of the current occupant of the White House," he wrote.
But the black caucus -- who said the decision to boycott was unanimous -- admonished other attendees, saying that if they "remain silent," they are "complicit in the atrocities that (Trump) incites."
Black lawmakers will instead hold a series of events in Richmond on Tuesday recognizing black legislators and the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to Virginia.
Caucus members also took issue with the decision to invite Trump in the first place. Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, sits on the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation board that's in charge of organizing the 400th anniversary events and said she wasn't consulted before the board decided to invite him. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, later signed his name to the invitation.
"If I had been asked my opinion, I certainly would have expressed that the president's offensive and inappropriate tweets have not added value or been aligned with Democracy," McQuinn said.
Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, said on Hearsay with Cathy Lewis Monday that the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans coming to what is now Fort Monroe -- which will be commemorated in August -- is "inextricably linked" to the anniversary of the first legislative assembly.
A member of the black caucus, she said she took it personally when Trump tweeted that four U.S. congresswomen of color should "go back" to where they came from.
"I think it was the introduction of the president (at the Jamestown event) that made it very clear that we cannot separate this time period out into celebrating democracy and commemorating the enslaved Africans," she said.
The four state Democratic leaders in both chambers also said they were boycotting any event Trump would be a part of. Thirteen other House Democrats have not RSVPed for the event, according to the House Clerk's Office. A copy of the Senate's RSVP list was not immediately available.
Some white lawmakers joined their black colleagues in the boycott. Del. Cheryl Turpin, D-Virginia Beach, said she will skip the session because "President Trump's continuing appeal to the worst demons of our Nation is a direct affront to the values of democracy that this Chamber was founded upon."
Republicans, in the lead up to Tuesday's events, accused Democrats of playing politics during a historical milestone.
Del. Todd Gilbert, the Republican majority leader -- who won't be there himself because of prior travel commitments that he said couldn't be rescheduled -- said in a statement Democrats were "turning their backs on an event marking 400 years of democracy, before taking time to learn that the leader of their own party was the one who invited the president."
Sen. Tommy Norment, the majority leader, who represents James City County, said on Hearsay Tuesday's event wasn't a partisan campaign rally.
"I really do think some of the individuals who have been making a lot of clamoring and noise about this, it's more about directing self attention and trying to perhaps galvanize a base behind them that they think may be of some importance in the 2019 elections," he said.
All 140 General Assembly seats are up for election this November.
Five other House Republicans, most representing the southwestern part of the state, also weren't on the RSVP list.
(c)2019 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)