- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

RICHMOND — Angry black leaders demanded the formal censure yesterday of a state legislator who had said blacks should “get over” slavery and said it merited protests.

“I think we ought to just kick up some hell,” the Rev. J. Rayfield Vines Jr. of Richmond said during a press conference organized by the Virginia National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In a newspaper interview published Tuesday, Delegate Frank D. Hargrove Sr., Hanover Republican, made his comment about slavery and rhetorically asked whether Jews should apologize for the crucifixion of Christ. He was criticizing a House resolution expressing Virginia’s apology for slavery.

Two black House members and Mr. Hargrove’s Jewish seatmate denounced Mr. Hargrove’s comments in impassioned floor speeches Tuesday. In a rebuttal, Mr. Hargrove, 79, stood and faced Delegate David L. Englin, Northern Virginia Democrat, and said, “I think your skin is a little too thin.”

In often emotional and seething comments yesterday, state NAACP Executive Director King Salim Khalfani and four black religious leaders said that nothing short of an apology by the Republican Party and a formal rebuke of Mr. Hargrove would satisfy them.

“The handwriting of the past is still riding upon the slaves today because we’ve never gotten our therapy, we’ve never dealt with it honestly because this is Virginia, this is the 51st state: the state of denial,” Mr. Khalfani said.

After the press conference, the group confronted Mr. Hargrove in his office. “We think that’s very insensitive for you to say blacks should just get over it when you haven’t walked in our shoes,” Mr. Khalfani told Mr. Hargrove.

Mr. Hargrove said that neither he nor the legislature could apologize for slavery, an institution wiped out by the Civil War. “I still am not going to support apologizing for things I didn’t have anything to do with,” he said.

The Rev. A. Lincoln James of Richmond said that he is president of an organization that represents 735 black Baptist churches, “and your comments have offended every last one of them.”

Mr. Hargrove said several black pastors are friends, “not political friends, but friends of mine, and if I’ve offended those good Christians who’ve really served their community, then I do apologize to those individuals.”

The sharpest exchange was with Tracy Muhammad of Richmond, the Virginia representative of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Mr. Muhammad asked Mr. Hargrove whether this generation of whites owes an apology for the forced labor of blacks generations ago.

“You’re a Muslim, and Muslims have relatively recently become a force in this country, and hopefully they will contribute positively to this country. I don’t know whether they will or not,” Mr. Hargrove said.

Mr. Khalfani said he will await the action of the Republican Party and the House to determine whether civil protests are warranted in response to Mr. Hargrove’s comments and to what Mr. Khalfani said is a poor record of state contracting with black-owned businesses.

Mr. Vines, pastor of a church in suburban Henrico County, was less equivocal. “We need to take it to the street,” he said.

Mr. Hargrove told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he had received calls from across the country in overwhelming support of his statements. His office guessed the reaction was running 20-to-1 in favor of his comments, the Times-Dispatch reported yesterday. As of late Wednesday, reaction on the Times-Dispatch’s Web site was running about 4-to-1 in favor of Mr. Hargrove, with most responses tied to the apology bill.

The Times-Dispatch also reported yesterday that one caller to Mr. Hargrove wanted to double his campaign contributions. A man in Massachusetts said he is ready to mobilize workers for a Hargrove presidential campaign.

Authority exists to censure members under rules of the Republican-run House of Delegates, but that hasn’t been exercised in at least the past 50 years, said House Clerk Bruce F. Jamerson.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats were ready to commit to such a step yesterday.

“I’ve heard comments equally hurtful to other folks, and we’ve not censured anyone over them,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican.

House Minority Leader Franklin P. Hall, Richmond Democrat, said he wouldn’t “pass judgment on that until I’ve had a chance to talk to folks and listen to what my constituents have to say.”

Even the black delegate who is sponsoring the House slavery apology measure was noncommittal.

“I understand the sentiment and sympathize with the sentiment in a general sense, but a censure is for someone who knows they’ve done something wrong. I’m not sure Delegate Hargrove appreciates how wrong what he said was,” said Delegate A. Donald McEachin, Richmond Democrat.

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