Activists, protesters rally for change at Lumpkin’s jail site
They call for Northam, Norment, Herring and Fairfax to step down
Roughly 400 years ago, a ship carrying enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia, starting a long, painful history with slavery that the state continues to struggle with today.
On Sunday, as Virginia politicians grappled with charges of racism and appearing in blackface, a group of activists and protesters gathered at the site of Lumpkin’s Slave Jail in Shockoe Bottom to call for the politicians’ resignations.
The event, “Leading Virginia Forward,” was organized by RVA Dirt, a local group that calls for transparency in government, and Race Capitol, led by local activist Chelsea Higgs Wise.
Several speakers at the event called for the resignations of Gov. Ralph Northam; Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City; and Attorney General Mark Herring.
Northam and Herring both have admitted wearing blackface as young men. Norment was the managing editor of a 1968 yearbook at Virginia Military Institute that included racist photos and slurs, including blackface.
“It’s time for you to go,” said Vanessa Bolin, a Native American activist and speaker at the event.
The speakers also called for the resignation of Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who has been accused of sexual assault and rape — allegations he has denied. The speakers said Fairfax needs to deal with those accusations privately and not while in office.
A diverse crowd of roughly 30 people attended the rally.
Dr. Mark Ryan, a family physician in the Richmond area, braved the cold to attend the rally with his wife.
“As a physician who works here in Richmond, I’ve witnessed institutional racism and feel it’s important to support grass-roots efforts on behalf of those most affected,” he said.
Local real estate agents Damon Harris and his wife, Tarah, said they turned out to “have a unique conversation in real time. Everyone is wrapped up in this [issue] now.”
“As residents and citizens, we need to listen to each other,” Damon Harris said. He also added that as real estate agents, he and his wife see “much connection with real estate and social justice.”
One speaker at the rally, Ravi Perry, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the recent events in Virginia politics represent a failure of moral leadership.
“Can these men lead? The answer has to be no. We have to find blackface unacceptable in any form for public office,” he said.
The event also sought solutions to the current political problems facing Virginia.
Perry said that in order to get to healing, the state needs to be led by a woman, preferably a black woman. He suggested Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, as a potential candidate for the next governor.
“She has a lot of experience at the state level and would be ready on day one,” he said.
Race Capitol founder Chelsea Higgs Wise (left) and Native American activist Vanessa Bolin (right) knelt Sunday as Elegba Folklore Society founder Janine Bell (not pictured) poured libations at the start of a rally at the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail site in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom.