State Watch

Virginia commission calls for repeal of outdated laws with ‘explicitly racist language and segregationist policies’

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A state commission created by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Thursday said it found “deeply troubling” instances of “explicitly racist language and segregationist policies” still on the books and called for an official repeal of the outdated laws, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

The Commission to Examine Racial Inequity released a 72-page report after a review of actions taken by the Virginia General Assembly between 1900 and 1960 — a time period spanning from the early days of Virginia as a post-Confederate state through Reconstruction, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the civil rights era.

Many of the laws cited by the commission have been outlawed by court proceedings, such as a ban on interracial marriage that was outlined in Virginia’s “Act to Preserve Racial Integrity.”

That law and others, however, remain enshrined and the commission warned that they could possibly be revived if a new ruling was made by a court, according to the Post-Dispatch.

Several laws the commission cited for repeal relate to education and Virginia’s fight in the mid- to late 1950s to reject federal mandated school desegregation, the outlet noted.

A 1956 Virginia provision exempts students from the compulsory requirement to attend school if they would be forced to attend an integrated school.

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no child shall be required to enroll in or attend any school wherein both white and colored children are enrolled,” the provision still reads.

The commission is asking lawmakers to repeal provisions that limited voting rights for nonwhites and bills that created separate treatment facilities for mentally ill African Americans or those suffering from tuberculosis.

“The commission believes that such vestiges of Virginia’s segregationist past should no longer have official status,” the report obtained by the outlet reads.

The commission, however, declined to make recommendations about controversial laws enacted in the early 1900s that created memorials to Confederate leadership like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

Confederate statues have been the topic of a national conversation since a statue of Lee, the commander of the Confederate States Army, became a rallying point for far-right protesters during the deadly “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville in 2017.

Statues across the country have been removed by local governments, and the statue of Lee at the center of the white supremacist protests was vandalized over the weekend.

The Virginia commission wrote that it declined to make a recommendation on Confederate memorials given the ”sensitive nature of this topic” and given the possibility that the state’s legislature could take action in 2020, the Post-Dispatch wrote.

Northam created the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law in June to review of any Virginia laws that “were intended to or could have the effect of promoting or enabling racial discrimination or inequity.”

The directive came after the Democratic governor was embroiled in a January scandal over a photograph in his 1984 medical school yearbook page that depicted one man wearing blackface and another dressed as a member of the KKK.

Investigators from a a law firm said they could not determine who was pictured in the image.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) later admitted to wearing blackface as a teenager. 

In a statement on Thursday, Northam committed to repealing any racially discriminatory language found by the commission.

“If we are going to move forward as a Commonwealth, we must take an honest look at our past,” Northam said in a statement. “We know that racial discrimination is rooted in many of the laws that have governed our Commonwealth—today represents an important step towards building a more equal, just, and inclusive Virginia.” 

Tags Blackface Charlottesville Charlottesville Desegregation Ku Klux Klan Racism Ralph Northam Unite the Right rally Virginia

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